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SAATCHI'S NEW SUCCESSION SETUP RELIES ON INSIDERS;LAING IS NAMED NORTH AMERICA CEO; SEEN AS A FRONT-RUNNER FOR WAX'S SPOT

By Published on .

Having watched one succession strategy fail, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide launched a more conservative plan last week.

Effective Jan. 1, Jennifer Laing, 46, current chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, London, will take over Alan Bishop's position as CEO of North America. Mr. Bishop, 43, will return to London and assume Ms. Laing's responsibilities.

This move gives Ms. Laing, who has never worked outside the U.K., international experience. It also lets Mr. Bishop bring U.S. insights to the U.K. operation and allows him to hone his management skills.

AVOID REPEATING MISTAKE

The agency is determined not to repeat the mistake it made with John Fitzgerald, who was forced out as president last summer just eight months after being hired from McCann-Erickson Worldwide. Saatchi & Saatchi now aims to groom several internal candidates to succeed CEO Ed Wax.

"After what happened with John, we don't want to look outside again," Mr. Wax said.

Mr. Fitzgerald clashed with Saatchi culture and personnel.

Industry speculation is that Ms. Laing is now a front-runner for the top spot. Other executives said to be in contention include Mr. Bishop; Patrick Pitcher, 46, who succeeds Peter Watkins as CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Asia in January; and Derek Bowden, 40, regional director of Europe.

Mr. Wax dismissed talk that the job shuffling between Ms. Laing and Mr. Bishop foreshadows Mr. Wax's retirement. Although his contract expires in December 1997, there is no official word when he will retire.

"I want to bring these two flagships [London and New York] closer together so they can work better together globally," he said.

In 1995, Saatchi & Saatchi reported billings of $3 billion in North America. The New York office reported billings of $1.5 billion; the U.K. office, $650 million.

Ms. Laing will be the third consecutive CEO of North America to come from Saatchi & Saatchi's London office. She follows Mr. Bishop and Bill Muirhead, now head of North America for the M&C Saatchi Agency.

She worked for Saatchi & Saatchi for more than 15 years, except for a brief stint at Leo Burnett Co.'s London shop before leaving in 1988 to form her own agency, Laing Henry.

She rejoined Saatchi & Saatchi in 1995 when its parent company, now called Cordiant, acquired her agency and appointed her chairman of its London operation.

LAING'S FIRST PRIORITY

Ms. Laing said her first priority will be to meet with North American clients. "Our business is about clients. Before I can have a view, I have to spend time with our clients," she said.

Contributing: Mark Gleason, Laurel Wentz.

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