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WPP Taps New HR Chief; Court To Hear Brooks

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WPP Group's hiring last week of McKinsey & Co. partner Beth Axelrod as chief talent officer answers the question of who will head the personnel department once Brian Brooks is gone. In fact, she's slated to start in May, before he leaves.

Brooks, chief human resources officer at WPP, resigned last year [Adweek, Dec. 3] and is planning to leave this fall. He has accepted an offer to join Interpublic Group as evp of human resources. Still unresolved, however, is when—and even if—he will make the jump.

Brooks' WPP contract has a two-year noncompete clause stipulating that he can't work for a direct competitor until 2004. Brooks wants to join IPG sooner, but WPP has filed a lawsuit to enforce his contract.

The case, before London's High Court, is expected to go to trial in early July, said sources. A judge will rule on the noncompete's legality. Brooks will either be allowed to join IPG or be forced to wait until 2004, which could result in Brooks seeking other employment opportunities.

Brooks, represented by London law firm Denton Wilde Sapte, could not be reached; a WPP representative declined comment.

The timing of Axelrod's appointment suggests that WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell wants to reassure the investment community that he can fill a key job that involves recruiting and retaining top talent, said sources. Axelrod, 39, advised clients on strategy and organizational issues at McKinsey for 12 years.

Sorrell cited her "business strat egy, personnel management and or ganizational back ground." Axelrod in turn said she was "delighted" to join a company with "exceptional people, a strong performance orientation and a clear priority on building the industry's strongest pool of professionals."

Before McKinsey, she worked in M&As at First Boston.