It looks as if Maurice Lévy, chairman and chief executive of Publicis Groupe, is finalising plans for his succession – which must be in place before 2012. Senior group executives are putting their money on Jean-Yves Naouri as the new ceo.
Currently, Naouri is associate managing director of group operations, and was also placed in charge of Publicis Healthcare (PHCG) after the departure of John Farrell in mid-2008. He’s one of five who sit on the group executive board, the others being David Kenny, ceo of Digitas, Kevin Roberts, ceo of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide, Jack Klues, chairman of Publicis Groupe Media, and of course Lévy himself.
Naouri, about 50, is a typical product of the fast-track French grande école system. A graduate of the Polytechnique, he began his career as a nuclear physicist. The important point to note, however, was his secondment to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, when he was minister of industry and international trade – a connection which will have put Naouri at the heart of the French politico-economic web. As a political insider he was of course invaluable to Publicis, which he joined in 1993 as the head of a newly minted corporate communications and ‘sensitive issues’ subsidiary (Publicis Consultants). He was elected to the Publicis executive board at the same time as Kenny, and was presumably given the same four-year contract. Klues, Roberts and Lévy renewed their own contracts at the same time: early 2008.
All of this may shed some light on persistent rumours swirling around the upper echelons of the Publicis empire. Roberts, for example, is said to be quitting at the end of this year – which makes sense if the French ‘insider’ has indeed won out. Kenny is being linked with General Catalyst, a Boston-based private equity company, and Klues is also rumoured to be eyeing the exit.
Any succession would have to be rubber-stamped by the shareholders. Although Publicis is about 70% publicly held, it has some extremely powerful private shareholders as well. Dentsu, of course; but more influential is Elisabeth Badinter, the soignée French feminist and philosophy professor who also happens to be daughter of Publicis founder Marcel Bleustein Blanchet – and owner of a 10%+ stake. Whatever happens in the run-up to 2012, we are unlikely to see the departure of the ‘Silver Fox’ himself. Will Lévy retain the chairmanship of the executive board, or perhaps take a ‘life-time’ presidential role? Or both?