Grey days ahead for Euro's Heekin

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Jim Heekin's next stop? Grey Worldwide, the agency network of Grey Global Group acquired by WPP earlier this year.

At least that's where the smart money says he'll land. Mr. Heekin, 55, joined Euro RSCG Worldwide as president-chief operating officer in September 2003, with a mission to not only reinvigorate an ailing advertising network but also to resuscitate his career. Instead, after less than two years at Euro's helm (he was promoted to chairman-CEO in January 2004), Mr. Heekin appears ready to move on.

Neither Mr. Heekin nor WPP would comment. Ed Meyer, CEO, Grey Global Group, said only, "I've always had a high opinion of Jim Heekin." But according to executives familiar with the situation, Mr. Heekin and WPP are wrangling out details for the move.

Despite playing a large role in Havas' financial turnaround during his Euro tenure, Mr. Heekin's taken a low profile in recent months as ex-Havas Chairman Alain de Pouzilhac battled with and eventually lost out to Vincent Bollore, the company's largest single shareholder who was named chairman last week. Mr. Bollore, said one knowledgeable executive, met with Mr. Heekin last week in Paris, and expressed interest in having Mr. Heekin remain with the company. But, according to terms of his employment contract with Euro, Mr. Heekin can terminate his contract for good reason "if his duties and/or responsibilities are materially reduced." A spokesman for Euro said, "Mr. Heekin's position remains unchanged."

NO `STANDOFFS'

In a move that is at the very least embarrassing to Mr. Heekin, Mr. Bollore elevated four Euro executives who report to Mr. Heekin to the role of managing directors, and also named them to an executive committee that meets weekly with three newly named vice chairmen. Mr. Heekin is not one of them. "There've not been any standoffs. But it is an awkward situation and will be until there's absolute clarity about how things are going to be," said one executive.

Mr. Heekin joined Euro after 10 years at McCann Erickson Worldgroup, with his last two as chairman-CEO. He was let go in Feb. 2003 following a series of financial troubles at the global network. Despite that, he is widely regarded as a strong leader, which makes him a hot commodity at a time when the industry needs good ones. "The quality of his presence towers over other prospective leaders," said an executive knows him well. The terms of WPP's purchase of Grey require that WPP name a CEO of Grey Worldwide six months after the deal's close, which was in March.

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