John Wren and Maurice Levy: Co-CEOs From Very Different Backgrounds

How Will Their Management Styles Mesh Leading the Merged Publicis Omnicom?

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They're both men of stature, physically and professionally. The very tall heads of Omnicom Group and Publicis Groupe, John Wren and Maurice Levy, have been running the No. 2 and No. 3 ad firms by revenue for years.

John Wren
John Wren
Maurice Levy
Maurice Levy

Also in common has been their desire to outdo WPP CEO Martin Sorrell (which they arguably just pulled off, with their agreement to merge Publicis Groupe and Omnicom Group and supplant WPP as the largest marketing services company in the world with $23 billion in revenues).

But that's where their similarities seem to end. Their management styles have always been different as their approaches to running a holding company. Consider their positions historically on the matter of the one of the primary concerns for any marketer today -- best-in-class digital marketing. While Mr. Levy has spent billions snapping up massive companies like Digitas, Razorfish, Rosetta, LBI and Rokkan, Mr. Wren stood on the sidelines and told Wall Street that Omnicom would prefer to build digital organically versus buying it.

Their approaches to business could stem from their differences culturally. For two men who just became co-CEOs, committing to jointly running one ad giant for the next 30 months, they come from very different backgrounds. We take a look.

John Wren

Born: 1952 in New York

Education: Adelphi University

Early Career: Starting his own tie-dye t-shirt company, working in a furniture clearance outlet, overseeing a chain of roller-hockey rinks.

Interests: Philosophy. In college, he was interested in texts like the "Bhagavad Gita" -- that is, until his future wife, who was fretting about how they would pay the rent, helped direct him into business.

Defining Moment: Setting up DAS (diversified agency services unit) at Omnicom. In contrast to the big networks like DDB and BBDO, this houses small shops and marketing services firms and it became a huge revenue driver to the company, paving the way for his path to the top spot.

Management Style: Rather than pushing the Omnicom brand, Mr. Wren has always touted the importance of individual agency brands under the umbrella, such as BBDO, TBWA and Goodby Silverstein & Partners. He's said the autonomy of each of the companies under Omnicom is key to the overall success of the family, which is why he's often been called a hands-off leader. Behind the scenes, though, on big accounts such as PepsiCo and Bank of America -- which it no longer has, but won several years ago via a holding company pitch -- he's known to be more personally involved. Acquisitions wise, he's been rather conservative compared to his peers. For a few years he had stepped back and out of the limelight, but in the past couple of years, agency leaders and clients have seen a lot more of Mr. Wren in meetings and making visits around the world.

Long-Term Career Plans: That he's now taking over as co-CEO of the merged Omnicom Publicis, and that he's set to run it solely for a few years after that wasn't in the cards just a few years ago. He expected he'd have exited sooner. As he told Ad Age in 2007 about succession planning: "I think it's more of a problem for my competitors than it is for me. Michael Roth is 60. Martin is 61, and I know he'll be 62 on Valentine's Day. Maurice is 64. I won't be CEO when I'm Martin's age. This is no reflection on Martin, but next year will be my 11th year as CEO, and you always have to guard against a couple of things. You have to bring things to the party besides being the boss. You have to create ideas, revenue in order to do this job well. There'll be a moment, and I don't know when that will be, when I -- or someone else on the board -- will say the same old juice ain't flowing."

Home: Greenwich, Connecticut, but spends a lot of time in Florida.

Family: Married, two kids

Maurice Levy

Born: 1942 in Morocco

Education: Studied computer science at New Jersey City University.

Early Career: IT. Ran Publicis' computer system.

Interests: Medicine; at one point he thought he might be a surgeon. Also passionate about peace in the Middle East.

Defining Moment: When a devastating fire overtook the Paris headquarters of Publicis in the 1970's, Mr. Levy risked his life to rush back into his office and save the company's computer files on magnetic tape. That heroic act and initiative was the first indication to Publicis founder Marcel Bleustein Blanchet that he may have found his eventual successor.

Management Style: Given the Publicis name is an institution and highly-recognized in France -- after all, it's got prime real estate on the Champs-Elysses and a drugstore, restaurant and movie theatre on the ground floor open to the public-- the value of the holding company's brand has always been important. It's also the same name as one of the biggest ad agencies under the Groupe umbrella, which again makes the brand equity of the holding company something Mr. Levy has always relied upon. Rather than merely a corporate conglomerate, Mr. Levy has used the cultural significance of Publicis and its founder Marcel Bleustein Blanchet to guide the company. And those values --along with a good dose of charm, something Mr. Levy is well known for -- are part of what he's used to attract the string of big digital companies he's acquired into the fold.

Long-Term Career Plans: His stay atop Publicis has been lengthening for many years; there's long been talk of him retiring and pressure from the board to need to find a successor to his role. One never materialized until the merger. He admits to being a workaholic, and with his latest move to merge with Omnicom, Mr. Levy ensures he'll be at the company -- in a chairman role at least -- till at least about 75.

Home: Paris, with weekends at a country home in Provence.

Family: Three sons, been married to his wife since he was 21.

Sources: Ad Age archives,, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Bolt Insurance, Financial Times, company websites.

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