Expat director sacked after suffering stroke in Bahrain

Advertising agency Gulf Saatchi & Saatchi dismissed one of its top directors just two weeks after he suffered a stroke, and then terminated the lease on his company house less than two months later, Personnel Today can reveal.

Mike Austin, who moved from the UK to Bahrain in September 2003 to become creative director of Gulf Saatchi & Saatchi, had a stroke on his way to work on 27 November 2005. The stroke left Austin – whose job was to recruit, train and motivate a production team – paralysed down one side and unable to speak. His wife has been unable to work since, as she has been forced to offer him 24-hour care.

A fortnight later, on 12 December, the company sent a letter to Austin’s wife detailing his dismissal. The company said that despite recognising “these are very traumatic times” it had to take “certain inevitable commercial decisions”.

Documents obtained by Personnel Today show that on 14 January the company notified its property agent that the lease on Austin’s house should be terminated. Then a letter from Gulf Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Khamis Al Muqla to HSBC bank on 5 February confirmed the cancellation of Austin’s pay.

In an e-mail to Alec Graham, Saatchi’s director of finance for Europe, the Middle East and Asia (EMEA), Al Muqla claimed the company had suffered as a result of the case, calling it “a long story that involved a lot of unnecessary suffering borne by us on humanitarian grounds”. Al Muqla said he was looking for an amicable solution and to bring the case to a speedy conclusion.

However, in a subsequent e-mail to Graham, Micky Denehy, Saatchi & Saatchi marketing director for EMEA, said that Austin was “a good, honest and hard working guy” and his case “makes for very grim reading”.

”I do not believe [Al Muqla] can wash his hands of this,” Denehy added in the e-mail.  “Professionally, I am concerned that we could have some very negative and unwanted PR.”

Speaking to Personnel Today last week, Denehy admitted the company was concerned by the case, but said that as Gulf Saatchi & Saatchi was run under a franchise agreement, Saatchi & Saatchi’s head office could exert no direct control.

“We are watching this with extreme vigilance. We don’t want to be in a situation where the Saatchi name comes into misuse,” he said. “We would expect them to act as Saatchi & Saatchi and take every care of their people. We have been reassured they are doing all they can.”

Denehy said that discussions had been curtailed because the Austin family had begun court proceedings against Gulf Saatchi & Saatchi in Bahrain.

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