Publicis Groupe Sir Martin Sorrell Tim Armstrong

'I will not miss him' Publicis CEO Maurice Levy discusses succession plans & rivalry with WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell


By Stephen Lepitak, -

October 2, 2014 | 5 min read

Publicis Groupe chief executive and chairman, Maurice Levy has discussed succession planning within the company and his rivalry with WPP chief, Sir Martin Sorrell, stating that he would not miss him when either retired.

Speaking to AOL chief executive, Tim Armstrong, at Advertising Week New York Levy discussed his future plans having extended his reign of the business until 2017 and the recent formation of a new board of directors made up of the Groupe's major agency CEOs.

He said that they would continue to buy agencies to fill some of the holes still gaping for clients but said that succession planning was his priority.

"We have a fantastic team and great people but my responsibility is to help them be in charge of a difficult problem and to bring them up to speed to the strategy that we are developing. They are part of the Directorate Plus and they will be associated to all strategy decisions that we are making. That is a duty I have and I hope that I will do a good job," Levy explained.

He added that this was his most important task but joked that he had to develop an algorithm to run the company and that he was good at mathematics when he was younger.

"There are many options and many avenues. The problem with decisions is not with what you think is right. Many people can find and perceive what are the next steps and what could be the right strategy. The most difficult aspect is to make the right choices and choosing is extremely complicated. We have a saying: when you choose something you have to let down another aspect. Making this kind of choice is complicated on a human base, on a strategy base and a financial consideration and being sure that you are going in the right direction."

Levy also revealed that he had not yet signed his contract to extend his reign at Publicis until 2017 and revealed that he had never signed any contract to remain with the company since joining in 1971.

"I would like to make sure that Publicis is the best suited and most complete holding company for the future. If I succeed in this I will be able to start a new job, with a new contract," he added of the coming two and a half years.

Armstrong then discussed the rivalry between tennis champions John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, which left McEnroe reeling when the other retired. Levy, in reading the next question, stated immediately: "I will not miss him" knowing that Armstrong was comparing his rivalry with Sorrell.

Asked if the competition mattered between the other companies; he failed to answer whether he would lunch with Sorrell upon retirement.

He told a story about the first time he met with Sorrell who was with Maurice Saatchi for a meeting to discuss an equal acquisition deal. Levy then was sent to London within Saatchi & Saatchi to meet with the team where he spent a lot of time with the team and Sorrell, however he recommended not concluding the deal.

He explained that he felt Saatchi & Saatchi would gain more from the deal, which is why he made the suggestion.

"I had a great relationship with Maurice [Saatchi] but from that day I had a less great relationship with Martin," he added.

"I have had lunch with Martin several times," he added before pausing and sighing heavily. "On competition, what is interesting and this has been one of my first things that I saw in the industry and its one of the greatest things. When we are defending the brand, it is a competition of one company against another. It is at the same time a fight between agencies and on top of that, thanks to the press, it is becoming between personal between Martin and Maurice, orJohn and myself or whoever.

"It is a competition on many levels. It is not something that is without a lot of emotion and passion. You want to win, and when you are winning, as the French say 'it doesn't suffice to my happiness that I am happy. I need also to know that my adversary is unhappy.'"

Levy continued to say that the landscape was very competitive, and added: "We are in a world of passion and of ideas...despite the fact that we have to be more digitised, more Internet, more always on, there is one thing that will last for ever, it is the ideas and there is something of us in each of our campaigns and that is not going away."

Earlier this week, while speaking at IAB Mixx in New York, Levy hinted that he may remain within Publicis after he steps down a chairman and CEO.

Publicis Groupe Sir Martin Sorrell Tim Armstrong

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