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Before J. Walter Thompson Co. Chairman-CEO Burt Manning identified Peter Schweitzer in October as the mega-agency's next leader, speculation about succession was a favorite pastime in some Madison Avenue circles.

Now it is again.

Mr. Manning spent two years grooming the 54-year-old JWT president as heir to the JWT throne, but Mr. Schweitzer-citing dedication to his six children and affection for the Midwest-has decided he doesn't want the top job.

Mr. Manning was stunned, insiders said, by Mr. Schweitzer's decision to relinquish the agency's chief operating officer post and remain in Detroit as head of JWT's Ford account.

Lew Trencher, 42, chief financial officer, is assuming Mr. Schweitzer's chief operating officer title and responsibilities. However, it's unclear who will replace him in the coveted slot of successor to Mr. Manning.

"We're a long way from knowing who [Mr. Schweitzer's successor] will be," said Mr. Manning, 62. "I haven't given this a second thought for two years."

Candidates include Chris Jones, exec VP-managing director of multinational accounts at JWT in Europe; Bill Thompson, agency vice chairman-chief marketing officer; and Ron Burns, exec VP-CEO of JWT North America.

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