The candidates, according to executives familiar with the situation, are Steven Felsher, vice chairman-CFO at Grey; Frank Mergenthaler, exec VP-CFO at Columbia House; Richard Bressler, former CFO at Viacom, and another Viacom financial executive. Mr. Felsher, in an e-mail message, declined to comment. The others couldn't be reached and an Interpublic spokesman declined to comment.
Whoever takes the role will have a tough row to hoe. Interpublic, the third-largest ad holding company, has yet to file its full-year 2004 and first-quarter 2005 results. Those filings are now expected by Sept. 30, the company said last week. Interpublic is also going over its books from its acquisitive period, between 1996 and 2001, and may have to restate financial results from that period.
In SEC filings last week, the company offered preliminary guidance on its first-quarter performance suggesting that its business is struggling. The documents said that revenue "declined moderately" compared to a year ago and operating margins were "adversely affected" by higher operating expenses stemming from increased professional service fees, salary costs and incentive costs.
The main headline grabber, though, was the news that the company is looking for another CFO following the resignation of Robert Thompson. It's the third summer in a row that Interpublic, which has faced accounting issues since 2002, has announced the departure of a CFO.
In a statement last week, Chairman-CEO Michael Roth said: "Bob came to me late last week to indicate his desire to leave. Separately, the company had begun the process of seeking new financial leadership and we have reached tentative agreement with an external candidate who we look forward to having join us in early August."
All of the known candidates or their companies are in periods of change. Martin Sorrell, whose WPP Group bought Grey, is looking for new leadership for the team, making it likely Mr. Felsher would consider a move. Mr. Bressler, who in January said he wouldn't renew his contract, was recently replaced in his CFO role by ex- Y&R CEO Mike Dolan. And Columbia House, where Mr. Mergenthaler is the top financial exec, was recently bought by Bertelsmann.
Analyst reaction to the news was a mixed bag. Merrill Lynch's Lauren Rich Fine called it "overall negative." A Credit Suisse First Boston research report, on the other hand, said, "We are confident that the company is moving in the right direction."
contributing: james b. arndorfer