After years of speculation about one of advertising's best-kept secrets, Publicis Groupe has answered the question of who will succeed Maurice Levy: The holding company today announced Arthur Sadoun will take the role of chairman and CEO.
Mr. Sadoun, who currently serves as CEO of Publicis Communications, will take on the new position as of June 1. He will also oversee the management board, which consists of Chief Financial Officer and exec-VP Jean- Michel Etienne; Secretary General Anne-Gabrielle Heilbronner; and new member Steve King, who serves as CEO of Publicis Media.
Mr. Sadoun is only the third CEO of Publicis in 90 years. For both his predecessors, running Publicis was more of a lifelong mission than a job. Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet founded the Paris agency in 1926, and Mr. Levy said in a statement today that his predecessor "entrusted me with the keys to the future of Publicis in 1987," after Mr. Levy had already worked with him for 16 years.
Now Mr. Levy will be passing the keys along to Mr. Sadoun. Or at least some of them.
"Succession is never an easy task and this is the reason why I very much insisted that Maurice Levy remain at our side to provide Arthur Sadoun with guidance in and recommendations for this difficult task," said Elisabeth Badinter in the company's statement. She is Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet's daughter and the head of both the company's Supervisory Board and the nominating committee that chose Mr. Levy's successor. "I have proposed that Maurice Levy join the Supervisory Board as chairman."
Shareholders will vote on Ms. Badinter's recommendation, but are very unlikely to disagree with it, leaving Mr. Levy, 74, to continue in a powerful Publicis Groupe role.
Publicis has followed a cautious path in Mr. Levy's succession, trying out and discarding an earlier heir apparent, Jean-Yves Naouri, back in September 2014 after several years of testing him in new posts (Mr. Naoui is now CEO of JYN Consulting in Paris).
Instead of searching for external candidates, the focus turned to Mr. Sadoun, now 45, who was added to the senior management board. He had earlier been promoted to CEO of Publicis Worldwide from running Publicis, one of France's largest agencies, and the network in Western Europe.
After the merger Mr. Levy tried to engineer with Omnicom Group was called off in May 2014, he did a major reorganization of the holding company at the end of 2015, placing Mr. Sadoun in charge of the new Publicis Communications division, comprising all the group's creative agency networks.
So intense was the spotlight on Mr. Sadoun that Ad Age named him Executive of the Year in January 2016, after his performance as CEO of Publicis Worldwide offered some insight into what was ahead at the new Publicis Communications operation he took over. A top priority, he said at the time, has been to bring back a winning, entrepreneurial spirit to Publicis.
Publicis execs could not be reached for further comment. In an internal note today, Mr. Levy described his carefully-chosen successor: "He has the intelligence, the energy, and the passion necessary to master our trade in a connected world that is changing and evolving constantly. He's also a man with admirable human qualities. A man whose impatience is common knowledge but also a token of his demanding nature."