Heekin Dismissed as McCann-Erickson WorldGroup CEO

NEW YORK Interpublic Group CEO John Dooner fired McCann-Erickson WorldGroup worldwide CEO Jim Heekin Wednesday night, sources said.

Dooner is expected to return to WorldGroup to replace Heekin in the top slot. Dooner’s planned exit from IPG opens the door for holding company vice chairman David Bell to become IPG’s CEO–a move the board is contemplating during a meeting on Thursday. The board is said to be leaning toward this option, one of several being considered.

Bell’s experience running True North Communications, a public company, makes him the front-runner, according to sources. But he may be CEO only temporarily–one source estimated a year–while IPG searches outside for a new CEO. Most recently, Bell, who did not return calls, has overseen IPG’s Advanced Marketing Services division.

The increasingly hands-on board is under extraordinary pressure from shareholders, given IPG’s recent stock slide, last year’s $183.1 million accounting bombshell and mounting losses in Octagon’s motor sports division. The Octagon losses, previously estimated at $58.4 million through the first nine months of 2002, have grown and could end up being as high as $250 million, according to sources.

The accounting imbalance, the bulk of which was found among McCann-Erickson offices in Europe, has sparked a slew of shareholder lawsuits and an SEC inquiry, which became a formal investigation in January. It also has resulted in the installation of new top management at McCann in Europe and globally.

A McCann representative referred calls to IPG, which could not immediately be reached. Heekin did not return messages.