Nomination of MPG Chief to Top Awaits Board Approval

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NEW YORK ( -- Nine months after becoming chairman of Havas, French financier Vincent Bollore is revamping management at the advertising holding company, nominating Fernando Rodes, currently CEO of media buying and planning unit MPG, as Havas’ CEO. If approved by the board in a vote March 10, Mr. Rodes will succeed Philippe Wahl, a former banker brought to Havas last July.
Fernando Rodes has been nominated to be Havas CEO.
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Elevating Mr. Rodes to CEO is part of a plan to strengthen Havas management by giving more power to the heads of Havas’ operating units -- not only MPG, but creative networks Euro RSCG Worldwide and Arnold Worldwide.

The team of executives Mr. Bollore named by last July following the ouster of former Chairman-CEO Alain de Pouzilhac will essentially continue to lead Havas, along with Mr. Bollore. These executives include four managing directors -- Remi Babinet, Mercedes Erra, Stephane Fouks and David Jones -- and three vice chairmen: Arnold Worldwide Chairman Ed Eskandarian, Havas Chief Creative Officer Jacques Seguela and Mr. Rodes.

The real power
“The real power at Havas is with Vincent and the operating companies,” said one knowledgeable executive. In fact, according to this executive, Mr. Rodes’ ascent was approved unanimously by seven top company executives in a Feb. 24 meeting.

Mr. Rodes, 46, joined MPG, the company founded in Madrid by his father, Leopoldo, after several years as a banker. Under his leadership, MPG has become less Spanish and more international. For instance, he moved its global headquarters from Barcelona to London several years ago.

Fluent in Spanish, Catalan, French, English, German and Italian, and a lifelong member of the upper echelon of Europe’s tight-knit business class, Mr. Rodes is well-suited to navigate the tricky job of CEO of Havas, as he must hobnob not only with France’s business elite but also with the French government. His family is one of Havas’ largest shareholders, and both Mr. Rodes and his father sit on Havas’ board. His brother, Alfonso, also works at MPG. His experience in media may well make Aegis Group, the London-based media company of which Mr. Bollore owns 25.5%, more comfortable with a possible deal or joint venture.

From media chief to CEO
Even if an Aegis deal does not come about soon, Mr. Rodes’ appointment “certainly says something about media and its role within Havas,” said one Havas executive. While a few other agency networks have installed media chiefs as CEOs (former Starcom media executive Bob Brennan ran Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett USA for a few years) such examples are few. But Mr. Rodes is well-regarded both within Havas and by competitors.

“Fernando is a great businessman. He’s very trusted within Havas and everyone knows he’s got a personal interest in the well-being of Havas. He’s soft-spoken and determined. When he’s got a strategy, he’s like a dog with a bone,” said one media executive.

Neither Mr. Bollore nor his spokesman returned a call for comment. A spokeswoman for Mr. Rodes declined to comment.

Two names have been raised as potential successors to Mr. Rodes: his brother, Alfonso, as well as Maria Luisa Francoli, who rose through MPG as the head of Media Contacts, MPG's online agency network.

Mr. Bollore told French newspaper Le Figaro that he will ask Mr. Wahl to join his company, Bollore Group. Mr. Wahl did not return a call for comment.

Succession changes at Arnold
Separately, Havas’ Arnold Worldwide announced several management changes at its U.S. operations, making clear its succession plan. President-Chief Operating Officer Fran Kelly becomes U.S. CEO, a role previously held by Worldwide Chairman-CEO Ed Eskandarian. Mr. Eskandarian retains his global title.

Ron Lawner moves to vice chairman-global creative officer and Pam Hamlin and Pete Favat become president and chief creative officer of Arnold’s Boston office, respectively. In New York, John Staffen rises from executive creative director to chief creative director. The agency is also searching for a president to fill the role formerly held by Mr. Kelly.

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Matthew Creamer and Laurel Wentz contributed to this report.

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