Publicis CEO Maurice Lévy on Brexit: 'I was stunned to the point' that it felt 'as if I had no legs'

Maurice Levy 2008Wikimedia, CCPublicis Groupe CEO Maurice Lévy.

At just past 11 p.m. last night, when Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Lévy went to bed, he was comfortably certain Britain was going to vote to remain in the EU.

But when he awoke this morning at 4.a.m. he was “stunned” and unhappy to see Britain had voted — by a slim 51.89% majority — to leave.

“I was stunned to the point that it did exactly feel as if I had no legs,” Lévy told Business Insider. “It was terrible news. It’s terrible for the future of Europe, for the future of the UK, and I believe the UK will suffer more than Europe, but it is [terrible.]”

The France-based advertising CEO said he respects the “decision of the people,” but regrets that people often get it wrong.

There’s one possible positive effect: “What I’m hoping is that the Europeans will take this as a wake-up call and they will regroup and they will start to work on an enthusiastic project for the future and for the youth of the European people. I’m really hoping that this is what we will be seeing.”

Markets went into turmoil after the referendum result was announced on Friday. The British pound fell to a 30 year low. Publicis Groupe’s stock was down 4.9% at the time of writing.

But Lévy is confident the Brexit won’t have have “much consequence” on his business, which has a big presence in the UK.

“We pay our salary, we pay the charges, we pay the costs in British pounds and we receive the revenue in British pounds, so it is limited only to the profit we are making in that country,” Lévy said. “The UK will have a currency which will be relatively low, so it will probably mitigate some of the consequence that they get because their product will be cheaper and they will be able to export. Therefore the economic crisis that people are expecting will probably not be that tough.”

It will be “much tougher psychologically,” Lévy thinks, adding that the situation will be complicated in the long-run. To that effect, he immediately wrote a letter to his teams in the UK on Friday to reassure them that Publicis sees the UK as “a long-term investment, we are not there just to play games.”

Lévy on David Cameron: “I think there are not words tough enough for his legacy”

British Prime Minister David Cameron — who had wanted the UK to remain in the EU but had nevertheless been the man to call the referendum — announced his resignation following the results on Friday.

Lévy said: “The fact that Cameron has left is not really something interesting. He is responsible to history for what happened. History will judge him and I think there are not words tough enough for his legacy.”

Former London Mayor and leader of the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson, is the bookmaker’s favourite to replace Cameron at Number 10.

Lévy isn’t enthused: “I think that he has taken advantage of the fear regarding the problem of immigration and he was just making decisions and lying to the people — considering what Europe has given to the UK … I don’t believe he will [continue to benefit from this]. I think that Europe will be extremely tough and the benefit he is expecting will not be that easy to get.”

Reasons to be cheerful: Cannes and Publicis’ new Paris technology expo that it is hoping to make an annual event like CES

Lévy was speaking to us from the Cannes Lions advertising festival where he had just appeared on stage alongside UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon and WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell, Havas CEO Yannick Yannick Bolloré, IPG CEO Michael Roth, Omnicom CEO John Wren, and Dentsu CEO Tadashi Ishii (via video).

They were announcing that all of the “big six” holding companies were launching a joint advert sing initiative to help raise awareness of the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals.

Lévy said: “We had a ceasefire for a few hours and we got together … there was Bolloré, Roth, Sorrell, Wren, and myself on stage and no-one was trying to show off that he is more clever, more intelligent, no-one was nasty, and everyone was really working positively and constructively on helping the UN.”

Next week, once Cannes is over, Publicis Groupe is opening its inaugural Viva Technology Paris expo event, which will include speakers such as Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Publicis will also announce the winners of investment from its “Publicis 90” startup fund and mentorship program.

Lévy said Publicis has invested €10 million in the fund and €10 million in the event and that the company hopes to break even. The ad agency holding group has also called on partners and media companies to match each investment, which will range between €10,000 and €500,000.

“The success that we are seeing [with Viva Technology] happening is such that people are already asking: ‘When is the next one?’ We will review and we will have another meeting and hopefully it will become a yearly one. We will see,” Lévy said.

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