Dooner looks at recent deals as he considers IPG's next step

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John dooner was supposed to be in Naples, Florida, this week, delivering a speech as the incoming chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. But a few months back Dooner decided that, in his broadened role as chairman-CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos., it was no longer appropriate for him to head an advertising trade group.

So the speech will be delivered by Brendan Ryan, who runs FCB and who will call Dooner "boss" by the start of summer. And Dooner, instead of chairing the Four A's, is busy running the largest advertising and marketing holding company in the world-not bad for a guy who just took the reins at the start of the year.

John Dooner, who's 52 but looks 45, didn't come out of no-where; for years he ran Inter-public's McCann-Erickson quite successfully, creating something of a holding company within a holding company. But you sense when you sit with him that he's breaking in his job like a new pair of shoes, still getting used to (although clearly liking) the idea that he-along with John Wren of Omnicom and Martin Sorrell of WPP-is one of the most influential men in the business.

"What a time to take over," Dooner said earlier this month while sipping a Diet Coke in his tastefully decorated corner office. (Predecessor Phil Geier collected modern art, but Dooner is partial to Impres-sionist paintings.) His reference, of course, was to the economy, and he said, "We know it's not good, but we don't know how bad it is."

Not that the slump has slowed Dooner down. His first deal (or was it Geier's last?) was the acquisition of Deutsch, the most coveted of the independents. He eclipsed that when he scooped up True North Communications, parent of FCB, last month. When the deal is completed in June, Interpublic will assume WPP's position as the biggest advertising and marketing holding company.

"We never thought of that," Dooner said, "but there's no question leadership has its benefits. I look at leadership in a broader sense, which is having the best assets, and our client list, when you add True North, is really awesome.

"The second thing you look for," he said, "is management. And the depth of management talent we have-Brendan Ryan, David Bell, Jim Heekin, Donny Deutsch, Frank Lowe-is second to none. You're talking major players."

Of course, along with the benefits come challenges, big ones-such as how to integrate True North and the rest of Interpublic's diverse holdings, and how to find the right roles for all of those senior executives, how to manage all those egos.

Ask him what's in store for Donny Deutsch, though, or which agency he will fold Bozell into, and Dooner is understandably reluctant to share his thinking. He will, however, talk about the process.

"This offers an opportunity for IPG to look at its whole business," he said. The first step is to establish growth objectives for all Interpublic companies. Then he'll look at consolidation "for clout or competitiveness or client service." Next, he'll look at ways for various companies to form alliances that make each stronger.

Despite all the work that needs to be done, Dooner said it would be wrong to assume Interpublic's shopping spree is done. He's actively seeking marketing-services specialists to lessen Interpublic's dependence on advertising. And he indicated Interpublic might even make a run at another big fish (a big Grey one, perhaps?) if the opportunity comes up: "Sometimes you can't control the timing."

As for his top priority, Dooner said it is to create an atmosphere in which Interpub-lic's agencies compete fiercely against each other while still coming together for the good of the parent company. "In the daytime," he said, "you're gladiators, battling each other. At night, you have to have a common dream. It's up to me to provide that dream."

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