GREY SUES FORMER NORTH AMERICAN CEO STEVE BLAMER

Wants to Block Hiring of Grey Execs at FCB and More Than $1 Million

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Grey Global Group, the agency network owned since March by WPP Group, run by the famously litigious Martin Sorrell, today sued Grey's former CEO of North America, Steve Blamer, rival holding company Interpublic Group of Cos. and one of its advertising networks, FCB Worldwide.


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The suit, filed in the New York state Supreme Court, charges Mr. Blamer with breaching stock option agreements, his employment agreement with Grey and fiduciary duties owed to the agency. Interpublic and FCB are charged with wrongfully interfering with those agreements and with aiding and abetting Mr. Blamer's alleged "wrongful conduct."

The suit alleges Mr. Blamer, who left Grey in January to become chairman-CEO of FCB, and Interpublic breached obligations to Grey in recruiting former Grey executives Steve Centrillo and Chris Shumaker.

Mr. Centrillo, formerly managing partner at darkGrey, a unit within Grey Worldwide in New York, and also chief operating officer of Grey’s Atlanta office, left Grey in May to become Interpublic's executive vice president and chief growth officer. On Sept. 8, he shifted within the holding company to become CEO of FCB’s New York office. Chris Shumaker, Grey’s executive vice president and director of development, left Grey in July to become senior vice president and director of North American network development. When his hiring was announced, he was to report to Mr. Centrillo. He has not yet started work at IPG.

The complaint alleges Interpublic named Mr. Centrillo as its chief growth officer as a "subterfuge in an effort to avoid the appearance" that Mr. Blamer was involved in hiring Mr. Centrillo or that Mr. Blamer "persuaded" Centrillo to leave Grey. The suit calls Messrs. Blamer and Centrillo close, personal friends and that neither Interpublic nor FCB would have hired Mr. Centrillo without Mr. Blamer’s "active, wrongful participation."

Lawyers for Grey Global have asked the court to prevent Mr. Blamer from hiring Grey employees for one year after his departure from Grey and also from employing Mr. Shumaker at either FCB or Interpublic and from soliciting Grey clients. Grey also wants Mr. Blamer to repay about $684,000 (with interest) in profits gained from exercising his stock options and also to pay damages equaling any compensation paid to him "during any period of time in which he was engaged in his breach of duty of loyalty or breach of contract" of about $364,000.

Of Interpublic and its agency, Grey’s lawyers have asked the court to prevent the companies from soliciting any Grey employee -- including Mr. Shumaker -- to work at either Interpublic or FCB for one year following Mr. Blamer’s departure from Grey. The suit also asks for damages in an amount to be determined at trial.

An FCB spokeswoman said, "We will vigorously defend our position." An Interpublic spokesman didn't return calls for comment at press time.

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