Photo: Roger Sterling of Mad Men
Surely Publicis, the giant holding company that owns such venerable ad agencies as Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett, wasn’t serious when it raised the mandatory retirement age for CEO Maurice Levy to 75 years old? Levy has been talking about retiring for two years now, leading his potential successors (there are more than one) on a merry dance.Levy will turn 70 in February. The ad world’s “Silver Fox” is increasingly silver and decreasingly foxy, as he demonstrated when he said recently that he didn’t need to understand the importance of Twitter and other social media: “I understand how to wash dishes. I don’t do it regularly.”
Levy isn’t the only one getting up there in age. WPP’s Martin Sorrell and Interpublic’s Michael Roth are all on the wrong side of 65. Saatchi & Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts, a potential successor to Levy, is 62.
Here’s a look at who is likely to retire soon, and a snapshot of the historic Mad Men eras from which they hail. (We’re talking magnetic tape, Mary Quant, and roller disco, folks.)
Born in Morocco in 1942, Levy joined Publicis in 1971 as its IT director. His major early achievement? Backing up the agency's records on magnetic tape. His contemporaries (and board members) include French intellectual Elisabeth Badinter, 67, and LVMH-Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton Group chairman Felix Rohatyn, 83.
As the founder and head of the world's largest agency holding company (JWT, Ogilvy & Mather and Young & Rubicam are among its brands), Sorrell's exit would be geologic in scale. Before he became the king of agency acquisitions he was the finance director at Saatchi & Saatchi -- in 1975. In 1986 he acquired control of Wire & Plastic Products, a maker of shopping carts and baskets, and used that as an acquisition vehicle to buy Madison Avenue's biggest brands, famously besting David Ogilvy in a hostile takeover for his agency in 1989. (WPP still has a unit that sells stuff made of wire and plastic.)
In 2005, Michael Roth was handed the most thankless task in advertising: Cleaning up Interpublic Group after the SEC caught its McCann Erickson unit siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars from its clients in an accounting scandal. IPG is still cycling some of those payments off its books.
Roth came from MONY, the financial services group, and is regarded as 'not one of us' in the ad business. His rival CEOs all grew up in the business.
At 59, Wren is the least likely of the major holding company chiefs to retire imminently.
He's a product of Old School Brooklyn, born in 1952 as the eldest of six children in an Irish-Catholic family. His early jobs dating from the 1960s, included running a catering company, a T-shirt manufacturing business, and managing a furniture clearance outlet for Macy's. He was also, famously, the co-founder of a chain of roller-skating rinks before finally arriving in advertising at Needham & Harper in 1984.
Roberts is an outsider candidate to succeed Levy at the top of Publicis, but his age would make him a short-term choice. (Plus, Publicis is a French company and Roberts isn't.)
Born in 1949, Roberts began his career working for Mary Quant, the designer who claims to have invented the mod style and the miniskirt.
Correction: This item originally said Roberts was 66. Obviously, he's not. Apologies.
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