Publicis Groupe’s reorganization last week included the promotion of non-Parisian executives to help “lead the way for a new generation at the helm.” Most important of those roles, of course, is a successor to 72-year-old CEO Maurice Lévy, who now expects to retire in the spring of 2017.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same: Lévy’s successor is expected to be French, as has long been anticipated, sources said. Arthur Sadoun is the leading candidate, having been groomed as heir apparent for the past five years, and he ascended quickly to his current global CEO post a year ago. He and Lévy get along well. Sadoun also has the same sort of charisma and social standing as part of a high-profile couple with glamorous broadcaster wife Anne-Sophie Lapix that befits an iconic French company. Still, with no operating experience outside of Europe, he needs to carve out a similar global and visionary stature as his mentor.
In the background is Lévy’s top finance man, Jean-Michel Etienne, who has worked closely with him on every big acquisition the company has made, going back to Saatchi & Saatchi in 2000. Knowing that lay of the land, Etienne could be named a co-CEO or chief operating officer to initially counsel Sadoun, sources speculated. Another exec who might be considered a partner to Sadoun is Stephan Beringer, just named chief of Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi digital operations. While he’s German born, he’s fluent in French and is said to have Lévy’s ear in all things digital. But three years is a long time with a CEO who first said he would retire at the end of 2011—and other contenders may emerge. One thing is certain though: Lévy is expected to remain involved at the company beyond 2017.