David Bell Named Interpublic Chief

John Dooner Steps Down, Will Return to Head McCann-Erickson WorldGroup

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- John J. Dooner Jr., chairman-CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos., is stepping down from the holding company's helm and will return to run agency network McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, according to executives familiar with the matter.

David Bell will head IPG.

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Replacing Mr. Dooner is David Bell, an Interpublic vice chairman who joined the company following its June 2001 acquisition of agency holding company True North Communications. Mr. Bell was True North's chairman and CEO when the deal closed.

The moves come after a 10:30 a.m. meeting of Interpublic's board today.

In a statement issued later in the day, Frank Borelli, presiding director of the Interpublic Board said, "John's decision is a bold one. ... We are very pleased that he is returning to the things he loves most."

Low profile
As vice chairman at True North, Mr. Bell oversaw the Partnership, an operating division of Interpublic. He relinquished those responsibilities last October and has since kept a low profile.

Mr. Dooner, 53, who ascended to the top Interpublic post in January 2000, previously served as president and chief operating officer of the holding company from April through December 2000. Prior to that, he ran McCann-Erickson WorldGroup from 1995 through March 2000.

As a result of the senior-management shifts, McCann-Erickson WorldGroup's current CEO, James Heekin is stepping down, according to knowledgeable executives.

Turbulent tenure
Mr. Dooner's tenure has been turbulent almost from the beginning. Following the footsteps of his acquisitive predecessor, Philip Geier, Mr. Dooner pushed for the purchase of True North Communications, a $1.6 billion deal completed in June 2001.

While bringing to Interpublic the global agency network Foote Cone & Belding Worldwide, the purchase also resulted in client departures, most notably PepsiCo, which moved to agencies at rival holding company Omnicom Group. Interpublic was hit with multiple misfortunes during the same period, including a slowing economy and political uncertainty after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Financial crisis
Still grappling with economic doldrums in 2002, a financial crisis arose in late October 2002 that put additional pressure on Mr. Dooner and his chief financial officer, Sean Orr, who disclosed that because of improper accounting of expenses at McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, the company would have to restate earnings down for the past five years by $181.3 million. Last month, the Securities & Exchange Commission began a formal investigation of Interpublic as a result of the earnings restatement.

In addition to the accounting problems, Mr. Dooner was hit with another significant blow just weeks ago when longtime Interpublic client Coca-Cola Co. moved its account for Coke Classic to Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, a shop owned by rival holding company WPP Group. Mr. Dooner's once close ties to the beverage giant have weakened during the past two years.

Search for COO
Separately, Interpublic's search for a chief operating officer continues, though search firms have changed. Heidrick & Struggles International, the firm initially handling the recruitment, has been replaced by recruiters Tom Neff and John Wood of Spencer Stuart.

The search for a candidate to fill the newly created position, which would be second-highest management ranking at the company, began last November. Interpublic management is interviewing a slate of candidates with financial and operational experience at entertainment and media companies, according to executives familiar with the matter.

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