Y&R requires an agency leader

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Martin Sorrell should give Ann Fudge a little more time to prove her worth as chairman-CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands. But Ms. Fudge needs to exit her other job as chairman-CEO of flagship Y&R and appoint a leader to save an agency at risk of irrelevance.

Mr. Sorrell and Ms. Fudge jointly own the Y&R problem. WPP Group Chief Executive Sorrell bought Young & Rubicam near the market peak in 2000 and still must show he can make it fire on all cylinders over the long term. He made a bold move in 2003 when he hired a high-profile client-side veteran to run the agency business.

Ms. Fudge brought welcome new management ideas to the old Young & Rubicam and has done a good job shepherding holdings from surging BrandBuzz to Wunderman. Her adoption of disciplines such as Lean Six Sigma forced Young & Rubicam to learn the language of productivity and quality that clients speak every day.

But Ms. Fudge knows first hand that clients hire agencies for results. On this score, she has failed at the flagging flagship as a series of key clients have headed out the door. Y&R didn't create the problems at troubled Sony and Jaguar, but it also didn't offer the right solutions.

You wouldn't know this from reading her official bio: "It would be hard to overstate the impact that Ann Fudge has had on both the work Y&R produces and the people who produce it. ... The results have been, to put it mildly, remarkable." Both points are true. It would be hard to overstate how little Ms. Fudge has really accomplished at Y&R. Results have been remarkably unimpressive.

Ms. Fudge could end up as Y&R's Carly Fiorina: a celebrated CEO who got booted because she failed to understand her shortcomings and to share leadership. Ms. Fudge still has a chance to succeed at Young & Rubicam Brands. But she and Mr. Sorrell need to make the right move now: Turn Y&R over to a proven agency leader.

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