Maurice Levy's advice on succession planning as a chief executive

Maurice Levy, former chief executive of Publicis Groupe

“Choosing a successor is not easy,” according to the former chief executive of Publicis Groupe, Maurice Levy, who stood aside in 2017 after 30 years of running the world’s third largest advertising agency network, making way for Arthur Sadoun take the helm.

Levy discussed the long and intricate process with The Drum in the wake of WPP’s investigation over its own figurehead, Sir Martin Sorrell.

With the report from the Wall Street Journal having cast a question over the leader's future within the company for the first time, Levy told The Drum: “Obviously the best way is to ‘groom’ a successor. You need to find someone with the intrinsic values and character that make a leader: Integrity, intelligence, touch with people, talent, clients and partners, leadership and stature. They must also have human values such as respect , honesty and be a good human being.”

He went on to say that the perfect person would also be able to offer “extrinsic qualities” such as a “professional understanding of clients, vision of the business, strategic wisdom, and an understanding trends of the new world we live in such as technology, data, etc…”

Another vital quality, said Levy, was the ability to fit in with the established culture of the organisation and the capacity to change it. Levy also cited Freud’s theory of “killing the father” in order to succeed.

Levy revealed that a number of candidates were considered and prepared over the years before Sadoun was chosen as the eventual successor.

“When identified and groomed and named by the board, give him or her rope, freedom to act and never try to influence the decision,” he advised. “Stay away from day-to-day and be there to help, support and answer questions when asked. But always let him or her make the choice.”

Levy succeed the founder of Publicis Groupe, Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet as chief executive in 1987 having originally joined the business in 1971 as director of IT.

He continues to work within as the business as the chairman of its supervisory board.

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