Doner CFO Steps Down As Agency Wrestles With Pension-Fund Issue

Retirement of H. Barry Levine Follows News That Plan Is Not in Compliance With Disclosure Laws

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CHICAGO ( -- Doner's chief financial officer has stepped down amid a burgeoning imbroglio surrounding the agency's pension fund.

H. Barry Levine
H. Barry Levine
The news that H. Barry Levine is retiring following 33 years at the Southfield, Mich.-based agency comes one business day after CEO Alan Kalter told employees that the agency's pension fund was not in compliance with disclosure laws and regulations. That admission came after Doner's former chief marketing officer Bryan Yolles sued the agency for information about his pension after more than 10 unsuccessful requests for it.

The retirement of Mr. Levine -- who, along with Mr. Kalter and former Chief Creative Officer John DeCerchio, was one of the agency's largest equity owners and a central member of its leadership team -- would seem to be a noteworthy event at the nation's largest independent agency, as measured by U.S. ad revenue. But it merited only half a sentence in a memo distributed to employees today that detailed a number of new hires and promotions, including that of Larry Kempa to the CFO position.

"As CFO, Larry succeeds H. Barry Levine, who has elected to retire," the memo's sole mention of Mr. Levine read.

Mr. Levine's departure comes amid a period of remarkable turmoil at Doner. In addition to the pension situation, the agency is in court with Mr. DeCerchio, who is suing Doner over a disagreement about the size of payouts related to his 32% equity stake in the agency. Mr. DeCerchio says he's entitled to $55 million over 10 years; Doner wants to pay him $51.5 million.

Other promotions
Mr. Kalter's memo this morning detailed a number of other promotions: Chief Creative Officer Rob Strasberg, who joined the agency from Crispin Porter & Bogusky last year, gets Mr. DeCerchio's former title as vice chairman, as well as senior partner. Tim Blett, who runs the agency's Newport Beach, Calif., office, was also promoted to senior partner, as was Chief Strategy Officer David DeMuth, who also becomes president and chief operating officer as part of the shuffle.

The agency also named former Advertising Age reporter Kate MacArthur its senior VP-brand content director, saying she will work with top management to improve the agency's brand image and social-media efforts.

The announcements were shared with the agency during a town-hall session this morning that Mr. Kalter said he hoped would usher in a more open climate at the shop. "As I wrote in my memo last Friday regarding the pension issue, I want to make sure that we avoid the communication problems that we've experienced in the past," he wrote today's staff memo. "I genuinely believe that many of our recent challenges result from our lack of proactive, open and responsive communication.

"Going forward, I am committed to instilling a climate of openness at Doner. Since writing [the Friday memo], Aon [the company that manages the pension plan] has committed that they will send out statements to plan participants by June 5; and this week I will meet with pension experts to determine what needs to be done to get our pension communications into compliance and then into best practices. We will be working hard to address your concerns and fix any problems that may have resulted from this issue."

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