Maurice Lévy spoke about his rivalry with WPP CEO Martin Sorrell, and gave hints about succession planning at Publicis Groupe on the first day of Advertising Week Europe in London today. The group's chairman-CEO said he will be succeeded by a team, not a single person.
The session took place inside St. James Church, Piccadilly and Mr. Lévy, referring to the unusual location, began, "Brothers and sisters I am coming to confession," before adding, "I'm Jewish."
Asked about his relationship with WPP CEO Martin Sorrell, which has involved a series of public spats over many years, Mr. Lévy said, "Historically there has been a war. I hate personal fights and I don't believe it's right. We can have a lot of personal competition without a nasty, small, naughty way of dealing with the press."
Mr. Sorrell delighted in the collapse of Publicis Groupe's proposed merger with Omnicom last year, saying of the two groups, "Their eyes were too big for their tummy."
Mr. Lévy has given as good as he gets over the years, but he said, "It seems like the frog and the scorpion. It is in the nature of some people to pinch and this is how my competitor is doing. I live with this, it's not a problem... The only issue is you have to spend some time if suddenly you see a nasty comment. What can I do? I cannot teach him to be elegant."
At Advertising Week in New York last October, Mr. Lévy recounted the story of the first time he and Mr. Sorrell met 35 years ago, when Mr. Sorrell was a Saatchi & Saatchi executive. At the time, Mr. Levy hit it off with Maurice Saatchi, but Mr. Sorrell, not so much. Mr. Levy mischievously told the U.S. Advertising Week audience that he jokes about WPP's CEO "because Martin likes that and he'd be disappointed if I didn't do it."
Mr. Lévy, who turned 73 last month, was asked about the issue of succession planning at Publicis Groupe, and revealed that a new order would be established once he steps down in May 2017. He said, "It will not be one person. We have to build a team solution. We are working on it, and I'm confident this will happen in due course with no hurdles."
To test one promising insider, Publicis Groupe promoted Publicis Worldwide exec Arthur Sadoun to global CEO in October 2013 to give him operating experience running an international network. Because of his relative inexperience, there has been speculation that if Mr. Sadoun were to get the top job, he would be paired with an exec with more experience, perhaps in a chairman role.
Yannick Bolloré, CEO of Havas, also spoke on the first day of Advertising Week Europe, in an interview that covered more personal topics such as his love of tennis, his four daughters and his predilection for Coke Zero. Interpublic Group CEO Michael Roth was also due to do a one-on-one interview today, but pulled out due to "unforeseen scheduling conflicts."