Roberts was born and raised in Lancaster in the northwest of England. He was educated at Lancaster Royal Grammar School in the 1960s. He then became an assistant brand manager for Mary Quant Cosmetics in 1969. Roberts was later promoted to a brand manager.
From 1969 to 1986, Roberts worked as international new products manager at Gillette, then group marketing manager at Procter & Gamble (P&G), then regional vice president at Pepsi Cola, Middle East in 1982.
In 1987, Roberts was appointed to the first "chief" role in his career, as president and CEO of Pepsi Cola, Canada. While at Pepsi Canada, Roberts notably executed a publicity stunt after a keynote speech to a group of Pepsi Canada employees, bottlers, and the media. Roberts had a Coke vending machine rolled onto the stage while he was speaking. As he finished his speech, he reached down, picked up a machine gun, and blasted the Coke machine. "[Roberts] meticulously planned the spectacle, borrowing a gun from a squad of police officers and rigging the vending machine so that he had to fire only one blank to set off a dazzling rat-a-tat-tat."
From 1989 to 1997, Roberts was director and chief operating officer (COO) of Lion Nathan.
In 1997, Roberts was appointed the role of CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi. In 1997, Saatchi & Saatchi was in "deep trouble, with morale at an all-time low." Roberts was advised to restructure the business drastically by bringing in his own people and moving current people around. Instead, Roberts brought in and moved nobody for two years. Against all odds, Roberts was able to get things in Saatchi & Saatchi moving again in one year. Roberts then started the process to make Saatchi & Saatchi into one of the best advertising agencies around the world.
In September 2006, Saatchi & Saatchi won a US$430 million JC Penney contract because of the idea of lovemarks, invented and promoted by Roberts.
In the Queen's Birthday Honours 2013, Roberts was appointed a Companion of The New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business and the community.
On 30 July 2016, Roberts was placed on leave by Publicis Groupe, after an interview with Business Insider in which he made sexist remarks about gender diversity in advertising business, stating that "the fucking debate is all over" and judging that women lacked ambition for top leadership roles.
"It is for the gravity of these statements that Kevin Roberts has been asked to take a leave of absence from Publicis Groupe effective immediately", stated Groupe Chief Executive Maurice Lévy. Roberts resigned from his position on 3 August, with effect from 1 September 2016.
Since leaving Publicis Groupe in 2016, Roberts’ main role has been counselling and coaching business leaders and employees on leadership, marketing and creative thinking through his company Red Rose Consulting, founded in 1995.
On 11 January, 2017 Roberts was appointed chairman of Beattie, the creative communications group. His remit – to take the London-headquartered integrated marketing agency and its Only boutiques into English-speaking countries around the world.
Roberts is also chairman of cricket company CricHQ which is based in New Zealand.Peak Performing Organisations – Lessons for Business from the World's Leading Sports Organisations, 2000, by Clive Gilson, Mike Pratt, Kevin Roberts, and Ed Weymes (ISBN 1-58799-150-0)
Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands, 2004
Sisomo: The Future on Screen, 2005 (ISBN 1-57687-268-8)
Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands (Expanded Edition), 2006, (ISBN 1-57687-270-X)
The Lovemarks Effect: Winning in the Consumer Revolution, 2006, (ISBN 1-57687-267-X)
Diesel: XXX Years of Diesel Communication, 2008, (ISBN 0-84783-166-3)
64 Shots: Leadership in a Crazy World, 2016, (ISBN 978-1576877715)
Honorary doctorates: University of Waikato (1998), International University in Geneva (2009), Lancaster University (2009)
Honorary professorships: Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas (2008), University of Auckland (2008), Lancaster University (2009), University of Victoria B.C. (2015)
Professorships: University of Waikato (2003-2007)
Inaugural CEO in Residence at Cambridge Judge Business School (2001-2009)