Jean-Yves Naouri heads queue to succeed Levy at Publicis

And a pretty short queue it looks like at the moment for newly-annointed COO Naouri.

The only problem for Jean-Yves is that current chairman and CEO Maurice Levy, 68, has been pressed by the board (chiefly family part-owner Elizabeth Badinter no doubt) to stay on beyond the end of the next year which Levy recently announced as his retirement date.

Naouri’s biggest rival for the succession, David Kenny the American boss of Digitas and co-boss of the Vivaki media buying unit, has decided to leave the company as he doesn’t want to move to Paris. Which leaves only Saatchi & Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts as a candidate from the Publicis Groupe executive board.

But Roberts is an adman, despite his spirited attempts to rebrand himself as an ideas merchant, and these days holding companies don’t seem very keen to put such Mad Men in charge of the whole shooting match. Naouri, 50, is a physicist by training and started at Publicis running its consultancy operation. Levy himself was an IT expert from the days when computers were few and far between and very large.

The only problem for Naouri, assuming he wants the job of course, is that he’s about to embark on a very long audition indeed and often such candidates fail at the last because shareholders just get a bit tired of them. Someone comes along who looks more exciting.

Why has the board pressed Levy to stay?

Well advertising isn’t out of the recessionary woods yet with world markets in febrile form and fretting over the dangers of a double dip. Plus there will be numerous opportunities soon for the stronger companies, of which Publicis is undoubtedly one, to snap up their weaker brethren.

So with no date now set for his eventual retirement we have the enticing prospect of arch rivals Levy and WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell in gladiatorial combat for years, if not decades, to come.

The two old lions will probably be finally carted away from the Colosseum on their shields.

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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.

One comment

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    Premature to announce Maurice’s successor. Events often play out differently than one might have expected. A month ago, all the money was on Kenny. The new media world changes quickly. Maurice is staying on. His successor must be a valid digital leader. Stay tuned.