Publicis CEO Maurice Levy on Kevin Roberts' Exit: Highest Levels Set the Example

'I Wish Kevin the Best, and ... to Learn From This Unfortunate Incident'

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Credit: Ari Mintz/courtesy 4As

Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy on Wednesday sent out a company-wide email acknowledging the departure of Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts, with whom he had "worked amicably together for 16 years," before the board could decide his fate.

The memo follows Mr. Roberts' controversial statements around gender diversity, and his resignation days later. "The Supervisory Board and the Chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe took note of Kevin Robert's decision to step down with effect from September 1st 2016, prior to his retirement date due in May 2017," the holding company said in a statement.

Mr. Levy said in his memo that Mr. Roberts' comments were "unacceptable":

You are all aware of the recent incident resulting from statements made by Kevin Roberts that led me to suspend him from his functions, awaiting the final decision of the Supervisory Board.

Kevin decided to resign from all of his duties as of September 1, 2016, without waiting for the Supervisory Board to meet.

I am sincerely sorry that Kevin made the unacceptable comments which led him to prematurely end his collaboration with the Groupe. It makes me that much sadder given that we worked very closely and amicably together for 16 years. Kevin also greatly contributed to the Groupe, particularly throughout the early years when he joined the Groupe. Unfortunately, the gravity of his words cannot be tolerated, and even less so from a member of the Management Board. We can only expect that the highest level of our Groupe set the example on our principles and values through irreproachable speech and actions.

I wish Kevin the best, and in particular, as he said it himself, to learn from this unfortunate incident.

Maurice Lévy
Maurice Lévy

Mr. Levy himself made controversial statements during his keynote at the 4A's Transformation conference earlier this year.

While 4A's President-CEO Nancy Hill said agency executives must fight harder for gender equality, a hot topic since a lawsuit that forced JWT's global CEO from his post, Mr. Levy downplayed gender discrimination. "I don't believe what happened at JWT is an example of what's happening in our industry," Mr. Levy said during a Q&A with New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg after his keynote. "It's a one-time mistake, a huge mistake, a huge fault. But it's not a fair representation of the industry."

He quickly clarified his position.

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