Maurice Levy to hand over reins at Publicis

Maurice Levy, the boss of French ad giant Publicis Groupe for over 20 years, has said he is going to step down next year.

Barring a pretty unforeseeable disaster Levy will leave the business in good shape as not just one of the biggest such groups in the world (it’s fourth behind Omnicom, WPP and Interpublic) but a still thriving member of the French post-war corporate elite. As such Publicis is arguably more important in its home country than any of the other ad groups are in theirs.

Publicis also reported first quarter organic growth of 3.1 per cent today, which is pretty reasonable for a company with most of its business in low growth Europe and the US.

Born in Oujda, Morocco, in 1942, Levy joined the company in 1971 as IT director in the days when such people spent their time minding telephone box-sized industrial computers. He earned his spurs and became the favourite to succeed founder and owner Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet when his insistence that the company back up its records paid off when the original documents were destroyed in a fire.

His IT knowledge has also proved useful since, Publicis buying key digital media companies Digitas and Razorfish for pretty reasonable prices under the noses of its rivals. He has said that he expects digital revenues to account for over 30 per cent of the total in a few years’ time.

At the moment there seems to be no clear favourite as his successor although the odds are that he or she will be French. Levy says he’ll make his recommendation to the board and it’s likely to be one agreed with Bleustein-Blanchet’s daughter Elizabeth Badiner.

The bosses of its three big agencies, Publicis, Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett will clearly be contenders. The coming man at Saatchis is former Fallon creative chief Robert Senior (Fallon is another group agency) who has just been made chairman of Saatchis’ global creative board. Another man with ambitions will no doubt be Saatchi worldwide boss Kevin Roberts although Roberts is a bit flash. French, though, they’re not.

What about an an outside bet on Nicolas Sarkozy? He might need a job in a couple of years’ time and wife Carla would certainly go down a storm with the clients.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.