Publicis Groupe announced today that chief revenue officer Laura Desmond will be stepping down approximately six months after the company said that she would be going on a leave of absence to address “a significant family health matter.”
The former CEO of SMG/Starcom Mediavest Group will be leaving the holding company altogether as of December 31 2016, though earlier reports had her returning in January 2017. Her responsibilities will be absorbed by chief strategy and growth officer Rishad Tobaccowala, who has been “coordinating” the work previously handled by Desmond during her absence. He will retain his other responsibilities as well.
Maurice Levy’s statement:
“We are all very grateful to Laura for her many important contributions to Publicis Groupe and are sorry to see her go. I know that Laura will continue to be as incredibly successful in the future as she has been with us. With my colleagues of the Management Board we wish her only the very best.”
From Desmond herself:
“I am very grateful to Maurice Levy and everyone at Publicis Groupe for their support during my leave. The family health issue is significantly better. This sabbatical allowed me to consider where my greatest entrepreneurial and leadership opportunity existed. After thoughtful reflection and discussions with Maurice, I have concluded this is the right step for me. I leave the Groupe with nothing but thanks and appreciation for the opportunities and support I’ve received throughout my career and during my leave.”
Various parties have referred to Desmond as a “controversial” figure within the larger Publicis world, implying that her appointment to the CRO role was a largely symbolic one and that her departure was not unexpected. This sentiment seems to be confirmed by the statement regarding Tobaccowala and reports that Zenith CEO Steve King effectively beat out Desmond to become CEO of the Publicis Media subgroup in a restructuring announced back in March.
At the time, More About Advertising wrote, “It all looks terribly messy and is maybe a sign that Publicis has lost significant ground to WPP’s GroupM and Omnicom in the global media stakes.”
Tobaccowalla was formerly chief strategist at Publicis Groupe. He also held positions at Leo Burnett, Starcom, SMG Next, Starcom IP, Giant Step, Play, and Denuo.