He spent the first 23 years of his career in marketing and management roles at General Foods, leaving in 1989. Since then he has had two short stints as CEO, one at Topco Associates, a cooperative owned by 40 grocery chains, and another at Kayser-Roth Corp.
"Who is in a better position to understand client demands and concerns than someone who has been a demanding client himself?" asked Mr. Seelert. He also stressed the value of having an American at the top of the London-based Cordiant empire, indicating that gaining new U.S.-based multinational clients will be a top priority.
"What we wanted was someone from the client side with major multinational experience," said Alan Bishop, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi North America.
There was a "good buzz" in the corridors after Mr. Seelert was introduced to senior managers in London, said Ed Wax, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide, New York. The reason? Cordiant's agencies can now refocus on the task of winning new business after several years of turmoil caused first by financial problems and more recently by the board's feud with and ouster of founder Maurice Saatchi. Mr. Seelert succeeds Charles Scott, who moves to chairman, the job Mr. Saatchi was stripped of in December.
That feeling of instability at Saatchi wasn't helped when several key agency executives followed Mr. Saatchi to the new agency he founded, M&C Saatchi. Several key clients also followed, most notably Mars Inc. and British Airways.
That cut into Cordiant's worldwide capitalized volume, which was $11.4 billion in 1994. Cordiant has made small gains since then, including Saatchi's win last week of Campbell Soup Co.'s $10 million to $15 million Pepperidge Farm account.
Outside Cordiant, reactions to Mr. Seelert were mixed. The U.K. chairman of one U.S. network said, "I'm underwhelmed."
"When we can get [new clients] through the door, we have a pretty good record in the last year or so," Mr. Bishop said. "We just need to open more doors."
Laurel Wentz contributed to this report.