The completion of the Publicis Groupe-Omnicom merger will likely be pushed back to the second quarter, pending regulatory approvals. But that delay is doing little to stem speculation about which executives will influence the integration that will form the ad industry’s largest player. Until the deal is done, the two are still competitors. Because of that, discussions remain at a corporate rather than operational level and center on understanding combined capabilities, according to sources. Executive moves will, of course, depend on whether Paris-based Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Lévy or Omnicom chief John Wren, in New York, becomes the dominant force in the co-CEO structure. (The betting money right now is on Wren leading the charge.) While in no way a definitive list, these are several of the players who could help steer the new Publicis Omnicom Group—some obvious, others not so much.
CFO, Omnicom Group
Wren first met the investment banker in the late ’90s at their daughters’ primary school in Greenwich, Conn. He convinced Weisenburger, then CEO at Wasserstein & Co., to move to Omnicom as CFO in 1999, and the two have worked closely ever since. (They are the face of Omnicom’s lean holding company, and in recent years Weisenburger was seen as a possible Wren heir.) Respected and familiar with Wall Street’s ways, Weisenburger is considered a shoo-in for a top job, particularly if Wren calls the shots. But Publicis Groupe CFO Jean-Michel Etienne was involved in acquisitions like Saatchi & Saatchi, Bcom3, Digitas and Razorfish and possesses major integration experience Weisenburger lacks. Etienne might become CFO at the merged company (which will now have more European investors), with Weisenburger taking the COO role.
President, CEO, BBDO Worldwide
Robertson is the best-regarded among Omnicom agency chiefs—even the recent losses of Gillette and Bank of America haven’t tarnished that reputation. Known for his client expertise and professional standing, he was the favorite to succeed Wren before the merger announcement. Now any succession plan has been pushed back, and some wonder whether the 53-year-old, who marks his 10th anniversary as BBDO chief this year, is getting restless and looking for a challenge elsewhere. If the well-compensated Robertson—who reportedly has incentives not to leave for another agency job—gets disenchanted, he might look outside the ad business. (He is said to have had discussions in the past about a top job at HBO.) But if he stays at Publicis Omnicom, he may inherit an even bigger prize.
Evp, Omnicom Group
Ruhanen’s promotion in October to a holding company job, where he’s handling larger clients and forging cross-agency collaboration, is the latest move in grooming the exec for a bigger role. Since he joined BBDO New York in 2004, Ruhanen has run the agency’s billion-dollar AT&T business and climbed the ranks to become CEO of the Americas, BBDO’s largest region. The Australian moved to BBDO from Sydney, where he ran Publicis’ Leo Burnett. (He understands merger integration, having overseen Burnett’s acquisition of Cartwright Williams and D’Arcy.) Ruhanen is known in both corporate camps and in recent years was rumored to be in the running for a top job at both Burnett and Omnicom’s TBWA. Now, with nearly half of the industry’s networks under one company, there will be even more leadership opportunities for this upwardly mobile exec.
Global CEO, Publicis
Sadoun is a Publicis Groupe rising star and was named global chief executive of its namesake agency in October, but the jury is out on how he will fare on a bigger stage. He is famous in France, with his TV personality wife and a life that’s covered in the pages of Paris Match. But his early success at Paris shop Publicis Conseil hasn’t been matched at Publicis France and Europe. (Sadoun knows Omnicom: Before Publicis, he ran TBWA Paris and sold an agency to BBDO.) Sadoun replaced Publicis global executive chairman Jean-Yves Naouri, who was thought to be in line for Lévy’s job; now it’s unclear if Naouri will stay. That said, Naouri may handle shared services at the merged companies, something he did well at Publicis Groupe.
Chairman, CEO, Omnicom Media Group
Publicis Groupe is the only holding company without a media holding unit akin to its competitors, and Simm—the architect behind the creation of OMG—would be the right guy to build a combined operation should that happen. (Additionally, Simm doesn’t have a Publicis counterpart since Jack Klues, CEO of Publicis Groupe’s digital and media network VivaKi, retired.) Simm first earned global cred when he was head of Procter & Gamble’s worldwide media at just 33. If he gets the top job, it’s unclear how Laura Desmond, Starcom MediaVest Group global CEO and Publicis’ highest ranking U.S.-based media exec, will react. Desmond, who reportedly had unsuccessfully angled to become Klues’ successor, is said to be reluctant to work for Simm and is putting out feelers for a new job, something Publicis denies and Desmond declined to address.
Hagedorn led the creation of Annalect, Omnicom’s new digital, data and analytics platform, which Wren touted to Wall Street as “transformational” in the way agencies leverage information. Catching the Omnicom chief’s eye is the latest accolade for Hagedorn, an executive whose crossover career has spanned digital and traditional media. (He previously served as U.S. CEO of OMG’s PHD, managing director of corporate sibling media company OMD East, U.S. director of OMD digital and chief interactive officer of Omnicom’s direct unit, Rapp.) In three years, Annalect has grown into a 850-person global organization he created with the assistance of Wren’s digital architect Jonathan Nelson. The unit pitches outside the industry against the likes of Adobe, McKinsey and Nielsen. In contrast to Publicis, Annalect underscores Omnicom’s philosophy of “building not buying” when it comes to generating growth in the digital arena.
Global president, VivaKi’s Audience on Demand
In the newly merged company, Publicis dominates digital. While VivaKi chief innovation officer and chair of DigitasLBi and Razorfish Rishad Tobaccowala is expected to play a major integration role, observers are also closely watching Kurt Unkel, who is rising quickly within the VivaKi hierarchy. In 2013, he was named to his current role following a VivaKi reorganization, taking charge of AOD, one of VivaKi’s fastest growing practices and largest revenue drivers. Unkel built AOD from one of the first agency-led ad-trading platforms into a global operation. (After launching in Amsterdam and Singapore in 2013, it will set up shop in China this year.) Previously, Unkel proved that he could work with complicated global marketers, creating and leading digital strategy, investment, analytics and ad operations across Publicis Groupe with a focus on General Motors.
Chief growth and strategy officer, Publicis Groupe’s digital technologies division
Beringer is said to be a go-to digital guy within Publicis Groupe, and the Paris-based executive reportedly has the ear of CEO Maurice Lévy. Last year, Beringer was promoted to his current role, where his mandate is to create cross-agency client teams using DigitasLBi and Razorfish resources—experience that would be well suited for the cross-utilization of assets within Publicis Omnicom. He earlier cultivated those skills as CEO, international, for the company’s Digitas and Razorfish operations, where he created similar teams across 11 international offices. Beringer is no stranger to Omnicom operations: In the ’90s, he created an agency in Germany that would become Omnicom’s Tribal DDB, and as a founding member of Tribal DDB, Beringer established new offices and became president of EMEA, where he tripled the regional footprint to 24 offices.
Illustrations by Rob Kelly