Maurice Levy appears to be opening up the race to succeed him as chairman-CEO of Publicis Groupe to new contenders, less than four months after he heaped new responsibilities on his heir apparent, Jean-Yves Naouri.
In a chatty response to an analyst's question during a webcast about Publicis' second-quarter results last week, Mr. Levy said he is spending time with a "few people" without their knowing he is assessing or even training them for the big role. "I'm training more than one person because I don't want only one horse in the race. It is my responsibility to give the board many options."
Mr. Levy turns 70 in February, and the group's board of directors recently raised the age limit for board members to 75 to give him more time for the search, although Mr. Levy indicated he intends to retire well before that age.
Mr. Levy in late March added the title executive chairman of Publicis Worldwide to Mr. Naouri's duties. That was seen as confirmation that he was Mr. Levy's likely successor and a move to give him the broader experience running a global network that he lacks. A year earlier, when Publicis decided to delay Mr. Levy's retirement, originally set for the end of 2011, Mr. Naouri was made chief operating office of Publicis Groupe .
It's not clear what's changed, but it looks like Mr. Naouri now faces some competition for the top job.
Mr. Levy, talking about reaching the end of his career, said, "If you read between the lines you understand that I'm not the kind of guy who would like to have a bad year and leave with people saying, "It's about time he's leaving.' I am absolutely committed to making sure we find the right person, someone who understands the culture, is aggressive, entrepreneurial, a good adman and understands the numbers."