With New Hire, Edelman Tries To Move Past Troubles of Previous China CEO

Agency Names New China Head; Previous Exec Is Still on Administrative Leave

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PR giant Edelman has named a new CEO for China as it tries to move past an episode involving its previous top executive in China, who was caught up in an investigation by local authorities a year and a half ago.

The agency said its China team is now headed by Jeffrey Yu, onetime China CEO for Publicis Worldwide and a longtime executive at Bates. He will be based in Shanghai.

Jeffrey Yu, the new CEO for Edelman China
Jeffrey Yu, the new CEO for Edelman China

The hiring answers the question of whether Steven Cao, CEO of Edelman's holding company in China since 2013, would return to lead the agency's 320 employees in China. Mr. Cao's status at the agency has been unclear since he disappeared for two and a half months in mid-2014 to "cooperate with authorities," a phrase suggesting he was being questioned. (In China, many prominent executives have lately disappeared while they are questioned by authorities -- sometimes returning to their jobs, sometimes not. Often there is little to no explanation.) Edelman said this week that Mr. Cao remained on administrative leave.

Neither Edelman nor local authorities have ever explained what the issue was, but Mr. Cao's disappearance came around the time of a broad probe into corruption at China's state-run TV behemoth, China Central Television or CCTV. Mr. Cao's former business partner, a famous CCTV news anchor named Rui Chenggang, was detained before Mr. Cao disappeared. The anchor had a stake in an Edelman subsidiary in China from 2007 to 2010, raising questions over a possible conflict of interest.

In October 2014, Edelman said Mr. Cao had returned home to his family; at the time the agency declined to explain his employment status. This week's statement about the new CEO made no mention of him. But when asked, an Edelman spokesperson said in an email that Mr. Cao "remains on administrative leave while he and the company are resolving a few internal open items that remain but that are not essential to effective management by the new team." Mr. Cao declined to comment and the agency did not respond to further questions.

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