IPG In transition: 'Straight-shooter' named COO

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Chris Coughlin, appointed last week as chief operating officer of agency holding company Interpublic Group of Cos., knows how to handle companies in transition.

At his last job, as exec VP-chief financial officer at Pharmacia Corp. Mr. Coughlin, 50, was a key member of a team that acquired Monsanto in 2000. It then extracted a desirable asset, Searle, and sold the remains, which included problematic units Solutia and Monsanto. Upon arrival at Pharmacia in 1998, he standardized financial systems across a number of acquired or merged companies, including UpJohn, purchased in 1996, and smaller pharmaceutical businesses in Sweden and Italy. It was also his goal to ensure that cost benefits of those mergers were realized.

"I've had a lot of experience going into complex situations, integrating acquisitions, harmonizing business processes and cultures," said Mr. Coughlin. "This is a good match."

"Chris had a big commitment to transparency," said an executive who saw him in action at Pharmacia. "It involved tracking what money was coming in, what money was being spent on, and doing that across companies and countries." The executive said that requires getting people to understand what must be done and persuading them to do it. "He's collaborative and cross-functional," said the executive. "He didn't just sit in a corner and say `Here's what you need to do."'

"He was a straight-shooter," said Joseph Riccardo, Bear, Stearns & Co. analyst who covered Pharmacia before the Pfizer merger.

"Chris says what he does, and does what he says," said the executive familiar with Mr. Coughlin at Pharmacia. "He was well-regarded, seen as a supportive, honest operator."

Mr. Coughlin, a Boston College graduate in accounting, worked at Arthur Young for seven years before moving to Sterling Drug in 1981 as a corporate audit manager. Eleven years later, he rose to VP-chief financial officer of the parent company. He moved to Nabisco four years later, where he held several posts, including president of Nabisco International; Pharmacia recruited him in 1998. In his post, which he assumes June 16, he'll report to David Bell, Interpublic Chairman-CEO. Chief Financial Officer Sean Orr reports to Mr. Coughlin.

"He looks to be a clearly qualified financial executive," said Jim Treacy, former president-chief operating officer of TMP Worldwide, New York, who has held numerous financial positions at WPP Group agencies. "Six months or a year out, how will he be embraced by the divisional business leaders?...Time will tell."

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