David Hearn’s Coming Out Party

In his first six months at his first agency job, Bates Worldwide CEO David Hearn has been served an “undiluted diet of publicity” stemming from major account losses, dismal earnings and management shakeups. “It’s been a lively transition,” he said.

The 47-year-old former CEO of Australian food manufacturer Goodman Fielder was named to the post in March and since then has seen more than $600 million in domestic business, led by Hyundai and Wendy’s, exit the New York-based shop.

Plans for Hearn to succeed Michael Bungey as CEO of Bates parent Cordiant Communications Group have been accelerated, largely due to investor unrest. He will take the reins of the British holding company in March.

Despite the maelstrom, Hearn said he remains focused on creating a client-centric, media-neutral, integrated organization and putting the right management in place to run it.

In September, CCG overhauled its organizational structure, combining Bates Advertising with three other specialty units to form an entity with one bottom line, called Bates Group.

Last week, Hearn named the management team to lead Bates Group. One key position still open is that of CEO of Bates North America. Whoever accepts the post will likely add the title of Bates Worldwide chief when Hearn becomes CCG CEO.

“We’re looking for someone who will certainly have upward momentum,” said Hearn, adding that the candidate should be attuned to differences in American and international markets. Sources said last week that Steve Davis, one of the candidates for the job, withdrew from consideration.

Hearn declined to talk about contenders, as did Korn/Ferry International, the firm conducting the search.

“If the client wants to buy an integrated, full service, we have a structure that delivers that,” explained Hearn. “Integration for many of the big conglomerates has actually tended to mean, ‘I want all your money, please.’ “

He dismissed critics who charge that by combining the units, CCG will deter asset sales—an option the company may be forced to consider to pay down debt. “I don’t think it’s relevant, because we’ve kept the companies distinct; we haven’t merged them all into one amorphous business,” said Hearn. “So, if we bought another business that was relevant, you can add another leg to this, or you can take a leg off.” Hearn declined to say whether CCG is currently in acquisition talks.

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