Maurice Levy, the charming, silver-haired chairman-CEO of Publicis Groupe , is morphing into France's version of the "Oracle of Omaha" before our very eyes.
When Berkshire Hathaway head Warren Buffett wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times earlier this month, it sparked a hot trend of multimillionaire CEOs begging to be taxed in order to save the economy. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports the 68-year old Mr. Levy is one of a group of wealthy French execs who has signed an open letter urging other rich folks to help President Nicolas Sarkozy patch gaping holes in the country's budget by taking on extra taxes.
Here's the text of the plea, which was published in the weekly French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur:
We, chairmen of companies and business leaders, business men and women, finance professionals or wealthy citizens, call for an exceptional levy that would target France's richest taxpayers. This exceptional tax should be calculated in a reasonable way and designed so as to avoid undesirable effects, such as capital outflows and an increase in tax evasion. We are aware of the fact that we have benefited from a French model and a European environment which we are attached to and which we want to help preserve. This tax is not a solution in itself: it must be part of a wider reform of the tax system, encompassing spending as well as tax receipts. At a time when rising public debt and deficits are threatening France's and Europe's future, and when the government is asking everyone to show solidarity, we feel we must contribute.
Several of France's richest people joined Mr. Levy in the signing the document, many of them executives who sit atop some of the world's biggest advertisers. Among the lot were two key Publicis clients: Jean-Paul Agnon and Liliane Bettencourt, the CEO and the largest shareholder respectively, in L'Oreal, as well as Louis Schweitzer, chairman of AstraZeneca.
Prior to signing the public plea, Mr. Levy echoed Mr. Buffett's widely read Times piece, penning his own letter in the French newspaper Le Monde. It said: "I have always considered that the vast majority of leaders deserve their pay, and some more. But I think with the same force that it is normal that we who were fortunate to be able to succeed , to earn money, play our role as citizens by participating in the national effort."
One way Mr. Levy's differs from Mr. Buffett? He has a bigger annual paycheck. A Businessweek estimate of Mr. Levy's annual salary is $1.3 million -- a heck of a lot more than Mr. Buffett's annual check, which for the last 30 years has been $100,000. Mr. Buffett, of course, is comforted by the fact that his personal stake in Berkshire is around $50 billion, but he's gives the majority of it away to charity.