Publicis Groupe chief Maurice Lévy, once described by Sir Martin Sorrell as the “Freddy Krueger” of the advertising industry because he continues to work in his demanding role right into his seventies (he’s 72-years-old), has admitted enough is enough.
He will definitely be retiring in the next five years, Lévy told Bloomberg’s Francine Lacqua during the Leaders’ Lunch program, which airs on Bloomberg Television in the UK today at 5 p.m. GMT.
Lévy has held the role of Publicis chief executive since 1987. He first joined the company in 1971 as the advertising group’s IT director.
He had originally wanted to retire in 2011, but the Publicis board extended his stay. This year his term was once again extended until spring 2017, but with Publicis’ penchant for keeping him just that bit longer, industry insiders, including old rival Sorrell have remarked that he will “never retire.”
Not so, said Lévy. When asked by Lacqua where he will be in five years, Lévy replied “I will be retired…definitely.”
This year has seriously taken its toll on Lévy. Publicis’ planned $US35 billion merger with Omnicom that would have created the world’s biggest agency network collapsed in May. On the company’s most recent earnings call, Lévy admitted its lousy third quarter results, which were not in line with expectations, were his fault for being too distracted by the Omnicom project.
In the interview with Bloomberg, he described 2014 as “the year of all the dangers” and an “annus horribilis.” And it has affected him personally.
He said: “Everything that happens at Publicis, I’m taking it personally except the joy. The joy is for my teams. The success is for my teams. Everything bad I am taking it personally. It is affecting my behaviour. It is affecting my morale, but at the same time it is giving me a lot of strength. The worst thing that can happen is the negative spiral. You have to avoid getting yourself into a negative spiral when something bad is happening.”
Lévy thinks 2015 will be a better year, targeting growth of around 5%. But he added that the current economic situation “is not something that is bringing a lot of satisfaction and joy.” He is also “paranoid” about digital disruption and how “this digital thing” will transform some of Publicis’ clients.
He said: “When you look at digital it has a deflationary effect, impact. Look at Amazon. Amazon is forced to sell at the cheapest possible price if they want to stay alive and relevant and at the same time they are increasing their deficit. The only ones who are winning are the people who are on the side of digital and the impact on the other side is always negative.”
The interview seems to confirm that 2017 will definitely, this time around, be the year Lévy retires. And with Saatchi & Saatchi global chief Kevin Roberts also due to retire that year, bets are fairly open as to who will become Lévy’s successor.
Business Insider hears that the industry favourite to take up the role is Arthur Sadoun, the Frenchman Lévy promoted to CEO of the Publicis Worldwide agency network last year. He is also part of Publicis Group’s executive committee.
Watch the promo for the Leaders’ Lunch with Francine Lacqua, which airs on Bloomberg Television UK on Friday 19th December at 5pm GMT, below.
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