Richard Pinder, Publicis Worldwide's chief operating officer for the past five years, is leaving the agency and the Paris-based holding company where he has worked for more than a decade.
He will be succeeded by Jean-Yves Naouri, the heir apparent to Publicis Groupe chief Maurice Levy. In a move that will make Mr. Naouri one very busy person, he will continue as the holding company's chief operating officer and add the title of executive chairman of Publicis Worldwide.
The changes, effective immediately, come less than a year after Mr. Naouri was promoted to COO at Publicis Groupe, putting him a step closer to succeeding Mr. Levy as chairman-CEO.
Mr. Levy essentially has postponed his own retirement, originally scheduled for Dec. 31, 2011, putting off a decision about his successor. But it's unlikely that he would be succeeded by an executive who isn't French, leaving Mr. Naouri clearly in the lead in a race that doesn't have a finish line yet.
With the departure of Mr. Pinder, Mr. Naouri now has a chance to solidify his position as the top pick to one day become head of the fourth-largest holding company in the world, if he can perform well as executive chairman of Publicis Worldwide.
In an email to clients on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Pinder was glowingly positive. "Jean-Yves knows the company even better than I do. All of our key people know him well, and it will lead to a very smooth and swift handover I am sure. As Maurice's right hand man at the Groupe he is well placed to ensure an even brighter future for Publicis Worldwide and that the business continues to provide excellent performance for our clients. He and I have already debriefed on the key issues and opportunities and I am sure he will be seeking time with you in the coming weeks to introduce himself, if you have not yet met."
Mr. Pinder didn't indicate what his own future plans are, but before making a move he will likely take some time to spend time with his family after becoming a father for the first time less than two years ago. Spring is also starting in the south of France, where Mr. Pinder has a home and a boat.
Mr. Pinder has been a well-respected executive within the holding company over the past decade. When Olivier Fleurot, Publicis' former executive chairman, was moved elsewhere within the group, it was Mr. Pinder who was entrusted to oversee the global operations of the agency. He's also been one of the most outspoken senior leaders in the business.
That tendency got him into hot water last April, when the Economic Times published an article with an interview with Mr. Pinder that WPP and its chief, Martin Sorrell, viewed as an attack. Mr. Sorrell demanded an apology from Mr. Pinder for the "distress and embarrassment" caused by his comments, and the newspaper later ran a letter on the subject from Mr. Pinder.
Ironically, Mr. Pinder spent a great deal of his career at WPP prior to his term at Publicis. He worked in the London office of Grey for 11 years, and was a managing director at Ogilvy & Mather's U.K. operations before landing at Leo Burnett.
"Richard Pinder has done an excellent job over the past five years, in close cooperation with Olivier Fleurot in the early days, and subsequently running things on his own," Mr. Levy said in a statement issued from Paris this afternoon. "I would like to offer Richard my heartfelt thanks for his loyalty to the Groupe, his dedication and for the achievements he has accomplished with determination and enthusiasm. After 25 years in advertising, including eleven within our Groupe, Richard has told me he would like to turn to fresh challenges. Although I am sorry to see him go, I respect his decision and wish him every success in his future endeavours."
On the appointment of Mr. Naouri, Mr. Levy said: "I have asked Jean-Yves, who has demonstrated his abilities in all tasks undertaken to date, to take on the ambitious challenge of accelerating Publicis Worldwide's growth and speeding up its shift to digital so as to make it the most modern and best-connected network in the industry. Above all we want to give our clients the best in terms of innovation, creativity and holistic communication services.