In a surprise move, Havas announced that Global CEO David Jones is leaving the company immediately, to become co-founder and CEO of a new tech business launching next month.Yannick Bollore, who just became chairman of Havas at the end of August, said in a call with analysts and journalists that he will take on Mr. Jones' role as global CEO of the Havas group. Andrew Benett is being promoted to Mr. Jones' other post, as CEO of the Havas Worldwide advertising network. Mr. Benett has been global president of the network since January 2013.
"I've spent a lot of time around the tech and digital world," said Mr. Jones, who in fact joined the call from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. "I'm on Facebook's client council. This bug has bitten me. My two big passions are social media and social responsibility. My new tech startup is at the intersection of those two things."
Mr. Jones noted that he spent 9 of his 15 years at Havas working with Mr. Bollore's father, Vincent Bollore, who became Havas' biggest shareholder with a 37% stake and its chairman before relinquishing that role to Yannick, who is just 33 and joined the Havas board of directors about three-and-a-half years ago, then added a VP role two years ago and a deputy CEO title in 2012.
"[Vincent] was an amazing mentor," Mr. Jones said. "I spent so much time with him that I caught the entrepreneur bug." He said he has shared his new project with the elder Mr. Bollore. "Vincent has seen the product and seems excited by it. So I don't think this is the end of [my] interactions with Bollore Group."
On the call Mr. Jones and Yannick Bollore lauded each others' achievements. Mr. Bollore said the two men have had a very close relationship, and that Mr. Jones will continue as an advisor to the group throughout 2014. He said that in the last few hours preceding the announcement "We've called key clients, who understand the move."
The timing of the announcement gives Havas staffers almost two weeks to absorb the changes before Mr. Bollore convenes a global strategy meeting in New York on Jan. 21. He said the meeting will bring together the top 200 Havas media execs and the top 200 creative-side execs. "It's an opportunity for me to give a clear vision of strategy for the group."
He said that in a fast-changing world, his family's stake as Havas' biggest shareholder brings a stability that will help Havas develop its long-term strategy. Havas is the No. 6 agency company, with 2012 worldwide revenue of $2.28 billion, less than half the size of Dentsu Inc. at No. 5, according to Ad Age's DataCenter.
Mr. Jones described his 15-year career at Havas as starting with running Australia and ending as the only British CEO of a French-listed company. He noted that Havas posted record financial results for the first half of 2013.
He said he had talked with Yannick for a couple months about his desire to leave to do his startup.
"David put in place a good team, so it was a natural move to appoint Andrew, who has been David's deputy for the last eight years," Mr. Bollore said.When Mr. Benett stepped up to global president a year ago, his contract specified that he would take on Mr. Jones' global CEO role at the agency network in January 2014, one of the moves announced today.
Mr. Jones emphasized that he isn't leaving because he doesn't get along with Mr. Bollore. "It's about the opportunity, and my desire to go and be an entrepreneur," he said. "I'd regret forever not doing it."