Kevin Roberts, 47, leapfrogs such contenders as Jennifer Laing and Alan Bishop. In February, Ms. Laing, former chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi's London office, took over the New York-based CEO position from Mr. Bishop, who succeeded Ms. Laing in London.
Mr. Wax, 60, is relinquishing the worldwide CEO post but will remain chairman until the end of the year, when he will become chairman emeritus-maintaining contact with clients and providing strategic counsel.
No decision has been made on who will succeed Mr. Wax as chairman.
Mr. Roberts, currently the proprietor of Gaults restaurant in Auckland, becomes CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising May 21, with overall responsibility for the network's global operations.
"Kevin's diverse career has exposed him to the key disciplines essential to our business: marketing and brand management for major multinationals, a hands-on experience of what good advertising can deliver," said Cordiant Chairman Bob Seelert, who becomes CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Group of Cos. once Cordiant is dissolved into two separate publicly traded operations late this year (AA, April 21, et seq.).
Mr. Roberts has never lived in the U.S. and has worked mainly in the Middle East and New Zealand. He has no agency experience.
As chief operating officer of New Zealand brewer Lion Nathan, whose brands include Castlemaine XXXX beer, Mr. Roberts was a Saatchi client.
"I've been a client for more than 20 years at Procter & Gamble, Pepsi and Lion Nathan," he said last week. "I think P&G will welcome my re-entry. I've spoken to them two or three times."
Mr. Roberts said he had talked to Mr. Wax for months about the job and will move to New York.
Industry executives were stunned by the news Friday. Several people contacted told a well-known anecdote from Mr. Roberts' Pepsi-Cola years, during which he is said to have brought a Coca-Cola vending machine on stage at a sales conference and shot it full of holes with a gun.
Mr. Roberts, born in England, has worked for Mary Quant cosmetics and Gillette Co. in the U.K.; P&G in the Middle East and Africa; and Pepsi in the Middle East and Canada. In November 1996, Mr. Roberts resigned from Lion Nathan, giving as his reason that he wanted "to do other stuff, before I get old and tired."
In December 1996, Lion Nathan reported a 25% drop in earnings for the year and the market share for its beer slipped to an all-time low.