In one of the most daring corporate take-over and restoration of sanity, British PR and Communication agency WPP really planned for the ouster of Bharat Thakrar that when the plan was executed, nothing was left to chance
While Kenyans and Bharat Thakrar team of mostly Indians imported into the country and overpaid were not aware of the plan until Thursday, the WPP team played naive openly but really planned their take over of the leading local agency and locking out of Bharat and his cartel of loyalists including expatriate executive and girlfriends.
Bharat’s ouster came into the mind of the WPP team after one of the Chief Finance Officers, Jon Eggar, assigned to WPP-Scangroup failed to stay in his position because of the constant threats he was facing at work and at his residence in Karen.
According to sources in the security sector, Jon Eggar faced so many threats and accusations at work and at home that he had to be removed from the country, incidences believed to have been directly sponsored and/or planned by Bharat Thakrar who never wanted proper accountability and structures at WPP-Scangroup.
Jon Eggar’s Karen home was robbed by armed thugs every other month and even when he tried to keep dogs, they were poisoned, something which scared him to his security.
While Jon Eggar was eventually removed from the WPP-Scangroup in Kenya as CFO and replaced by Bharat’s henchman Satyabrata Das, he was sneaked back into the WPP-Scangroup through a board appointment, something which should have alerted Bharat to the interest of WPP in Kenya and his impending ouster. Jon was eventually removed by WPP from Kenya but appointed the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of another agency group owned by WPP, AKQA.
With Bharat network in Kenya, he never believed that some foreign entities would come to Kenya and oust him from a company he founded. With Jon Eggar gone, Bharat appointed his friend and loyalist Satyabrata Das as the new CFO. Satyabrata owed all his life to Bharat who not only plucked him from obscurity in India in 2009 but also gave him a job in Kenya and appointed his wife Sonali Das as the Executive Director of WPP-Scangroup owned public relations agency H & K Strategies.
Something which has baffled many in the know at WPP-Scangroup is the fact that Satyabrata Das had more shares than WPP-Scangroup chairman Richard Omwela. None of the shares was purchased but was part of perks extended to him as an executive in the group. Many wondered why he got so many shares allocated to him.
Satyabrata Das and all Indian executives benefitted from employee share options while no single African or Kenyan working at the company benefitted from the same. Th
Satyabrata was not the first or last Indian brought to Kenya, given fancy title and huge salaries even when they were trained by Kenyans who did most of the work. The Indians owed their deep loyalty to Bharat since he held them hostage with a lot. While most Kenyans overworked at the company, the Indians were head of key positions and were paid at least Ksh 2million per month each.
Bharat Thakrar’s confidence in his operations and ways of always getting his way at things in the company and the country was his undoing which eventually led to his downfall. This blinded him from seeing the danger from within. It came slowly but when it hit him, he couldn’t effectively respond or protect himself.
With Jon Eggar back at WPP_Scangroup’s board, 2 other appointments were made including that of Alec Graham who was eventually made the acting Chief Operations Officer after the ouster of Bharat. Jason Day and Shahid Sadiq were brought onto the WPP-Scangroup board before the ouster of Bharat and Satyabrata.
Some few incidences should have also warned Bharat that his time was up with even Safaricom and the government of Kenya growing more uncomfortable with him Having lost the Safaricom Marketing and Advertising accounts, it was not clear why WPP-Scangroup was still a listed company with no physical products or services they were selling but mostly ideas resident in people. Many market analysts suggested that with the biggest advertiser in the country gone and government doing advertising through the Government Advertising Agency (GAA), it was only fair that WPP-Scangroup delists from Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE).
The formation of the Government Advertising Agency (GAA) was also a result of frustrations by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government to reign in on the dominance of WPP-Scangroup and bullying tactics of Bharat Thakrar. Many remember that with the President owning Mediamax Group, it was thought that the group would make good money after the many buyouts and rebranding but even the President was failing to break the cartels in the country’s advertising networks.
The People Daily newspaper which is owned by Uhuru Kenyatta’s Mediamax Group, was even being given for free and beating Daily Nation and Standard daily circulation records. But they couldn’t get the adverts despite the government being the biggest advertiser. The President through the Ministry of Information pushed for the formation of government-controlled GAA to channel adverts to media entities and fairly distribute the same. Mainstream media networks and cartels were never happy and fought the move at every stage. They even went to court but lost.
The government spent over Ksh 21 billion in advertising yearly before the introduction of GAA but only Ksh 7 billion annually after GAA restrictions were introduced. The government was alarmed that it saved over Ksh 14 billion if it used GAA without reducing the rate of frequency of advertising. The schemes used to steal from the government were so brazen even parliament involved. But this is a story for another day.
After the appointment of the board and all plans were put into place, WPP plotted the Scangroup takeover such that nothing failed. NO. The only failure was the inability to secure the personal laptops of Bharat and Satyabrata. Both refused to hand over their machines and lawyered but when WPP insisted.
A SOX compliance audit was ordered sometime in 2020 to enable WPP to understand the operations of Bharat and his gang. Bharat didn’t suspect that this was targeted at his as Sox compliance audits are compulsory for UK listed firms. WPP is listed in the UK. The final SOX audit report from WPP-Scangroup was greatly edited by Bharat but the auditors forwarded their thoughts to WPP clients enabling them to see the bad side Bharat was actually hiding.
The actual physical takeover of WPP-Scangroup physical takeover came after a meeting in the UK on Monday 15th February. The UK team from WPP carefully planned the takeover that they even arranged private security services from the UK to facilitate the same. Top global forensic examiners were flown in with UK High Commissions supporting the same and senior executives at WPP-Scangroup (excluding Bharat and Styabrata) being informed only on Wednesday to call clients and inform them that the planned move would not affect business operations.
While the top managers were being informed, WPP-Scangroup premises in Nairobi including the HQ were all placed under foreign security guards. The security companies with armed guards also replaced all security access systems and cameras by Thursday morning. The IT security teams and forensic examiners installed parallel server rooms after securing the servers of WPP-Scangroup.
Partners like the CMA, government and the bankers were all informed of changes in signatories by Thursday morning. WPP-Scangroup had 14 bank accounts with the main transaction account being domiciled at CFC Stanbic. WPP-Scangroup has over Ksh 4 billion of cash in the bank. This money is what Bharat used to intimidate opponents and buy out rivals. From McCann Ericsson to Redsky, Bharat bullied and bought rivals at whim. He also ensured that he destroyed the livelihoods of top executives who dare leave WPP-Scangroup for rivals.
Employees of WPP-Scangroup would tell you how they’d go to meetings then just get shouted at or berated for not doing presentations as well as Serah Katusia who was said to be Bharat’s main side-squeeze. Apart from the Indians who were paid over Ksh 2m, no senior Kenyan earned that much or even close save for Serah Katusia who was paid Ksh 1.9 million per month.
Many of WPP-Scangroup employees and senior executives have wondered why Serah Katusia was paid that much while MediaCom lost 70 per cent of its business due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Apart from being used to bribe, intimidate and scare competitors, the huge cash in the bank was to enable WPP-Scangroup operate for at least 5 years without taking new businesses or existing clients paying in tough times. WPP-Scangroup was well secured for tough times.
Many former WPP-Scangroup employees would tell you their stories of the fight for their lives while crying like little children. Some were left to go but lives destroyed after new employers got dirty “secrets” from Bharat while some were forced to sign contract extensions, apologise for wanting to leave then get sacked like desperate school leavers. Bharat played dirty.
But evidence of the end of his powers might have emerged when a robbery supposedly happened at his well-secured home in Nairobi’s Spring Valley estate. Thugs gained entry but stole nothing while the home is said to be full of stashed jewellery and expensive items which could have interested any robber. The said thugs reportedly took his phone and burnt it before leaving the home. It was not clear if that was a government operation or an actual robbery but it looked like someone wanted to destroy evidence which Bharat could use to blackmail them but not steal anything.
Generally a wealthy man, Bharat also invested much of his wealth through dealings with former WPP-Scangroup Chief Operating Officer, Ayub Ahmed. Through Ayub, the duo are said to own huge stakes in various local entities as well as properties in Canada. Ayub and Bharat are believed to own 25 housing units in the North American country. Their directly or indirectly owned units have also been some of the major suppliers or sub-contractors at WPP-Scangroup which they led.
Ayub was ousted from WPP-Scangroup after an anonymous complaint by staff members over issues touching on corporate governance and sexual harassment. With a Diploma in Printing and Graphic Design, Ayub is a product of Pan-Am Air where he came from before joining Bharat at Scanad and later ScanGroup. Apart from being head of production business at WPP-Scangroup, he was in charge of media buying before the roping in of Bharat’s girlfriend, Serah Katusia.
While it is the end of Bharat, it’s clear that WPP might not maintain the Scangroup brand name. The PR, Marketing and Communications behemoth is said to be planning a massive rebrand. The new name might be WPP-Wunderman Thompson or something to that effect. The group might also break ground and build a new campus on a piece of land which was bought in Spring Valley. The new COO Alec Graham while holding a town hall with employees on Friday, intimated that the focus of WPP as a group would be on Kenyans as people are the product of the company. This angered many of the Indian staff members imported by Bharat to do his dirty deals while not properly integrating with locals.
WPP might also permanently eliminate the title of CEO with COO remaining the top post at the company and Alec Graham staying or if anyone is to take over from locals, it might be Sandeep Mandan. Sandeep who currently heads Scanad is said to be sober and well-integrated with locals, unlike other Indians who are openly racist and unwilling to respect the locals, including senior ones.
Alec Graham reportedly had employees sign new contracts with clauses forcing them to either quit before signing of the new contract or commit not to quit within the next year.
More alarming to WPP is that a senior executive of a bluechip who was appointed CEO of the giant operator has also joined the infamous boys’ club. The club is accused of being used to corruptly win tenders while manipulating the capital and financial markets to their favour.
Meanwhile, the quiet ouster of Bharat Thakrar has been credited to COVID-19 restrictions as it enabled it fully. With employees working from home, WPP-Scangroup premises was easily secured and Bharat couldn’t get an inkling that his ouster was coming. COVID-19 also helped employees who are now working remotely to record their conversations with Bharat, keep a trail of text and engagement and use them against him at the appropriate time.
Bharat’s ouster didn’t come at an appropriate time as his son was to wed a Ugandan in Mombasa in the same week while his daughter who is married to the owners of Swahili Beach Hotel is not in a good state even though they run a Digital Creative agency.
All in all and unlike Bharat, WPP hopes to use this experience at WPP-Scangroup to inspire good corporate governance in Kenya’s corporate sector.