Mr. Fitzgerald, 48, joins Saatchi from McCann-Erickson Japan, Tokyo, where he has served as CEO since 1994. Earlier, he was vice chairman of McCann-Erickson North America.
The move sets up Mr. Fitzgerald as Mr. Wax's heir apparent. Mr. Wax, 58, wouldn't speculate on future management changes, but acknowledged most of Saatchi's regional and account directors are "quite a few years" behind him in age and experience.
"My job is to become a member of the Saatchi team and try to make whatever contributions I can," said Mr. Fitzgerald, who will take direct responsibility for new business, finance and profitability. He isn't expected to start until February or March.
"John has a reputation for managing challenging situations which, coupled with his clear commitment to creativity....make him especially right for this position," Mr. Wax said.
Mr. Fitzgerald's departure is a blow to McCann. In five years there, he headed the agency's two largest offices, New York and Tokyo, giving him a promising resume for a top worldwide job. In Japan, he shored up what was considered a trouble spot, winning new business from clients such as Nike and Microsoft and identifying the next generation of local leadership.
Marcio Moreira, regional director-Asia Pacific, will take over the CEO duties in Japan.
"Mr. Fitzgerald brings with him both excellent management skills and a worldwide client track record," said Bob Seelert, CEO of Cordiant, Saatchi's London-based parent. Strengthening Saatchi management had been a stated goal of Mr. Seelert's since he joined Cordiant in July.
In November, Saatchi appointed Michael Jeary vice chairman-worldwide director of marketing in charge of all business development.
For Saatchi, the appointment ends a yearlong search and caps a year that finished a lot better than it started.
After a power struggle with founders Charles and Maurice Saatchi ended with the brothers leaving to form their own London-based agency last January, Saatchi's fortunes looked gloomy. But since then it has won several accounts, including America West Airlines, Pepperidge Farm, Pepcid AC and Bell Atlantic, giving it $300 million in 1995 net billings growth in North America.
Others who were considered for the chief operating officer position included Steve Davis, exec VP-general manager, J. Walter Thompson Co., Chicago; Brendan Ryan, president-CEO, FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York; and Steve Dworin, recently appointed vice chairman-international, Euro RSCG, Paris.