WPP Takes theReins of Y&R

Young & Rubicam’s new life as WPP Group’s third network began with little fanfare and the departure of several top-tier executives from what is now known as the Y&R Group.

Among those exiting the sixth floor of 285 Madison Ave.: Tom Bell, CEO of the former Y&R Inc.; Peter Stringham, the North American CEO; and general counsel Stephanie Abramson, sources said.

Bell, who negotiated the $4.7 billion deal with WPP, is leaving after grossing more than $42 million from the sale of 800,000 shares of agency stock. Stringham, who logged just three years at Y&R, walks away with a two-year severance package, sources said. Bell most likely will land on the client side, while some speculate that Stringham, former president of BBDO Canada, will return to the Omnicom fold. Neither could be reached.

Meanwhile, Y&R Group CEO Mike Dolan has been huddled in meetings lately, with an eye toward managing a smooth transition. Before him are questions of where and how to combine resources with various WPP units. For example, executives have discussed the merits of melding Y&R’s Impiric with ThompsonConnect, its counterpart at WPP’s J. Walter Thompson, sources said.

Last week, WPP’s Martin Sorrell cited compatibilities in areas like information consultancy and research; PR and public affairs; branding and identity; and healthcare, interactive and specialist communications. Geographically, “it strengthens us in the U.S., Europe, Asia Pacific, Africa and the Middle East—and we find Y&R’s relationship with Dentsu very interesting,” he said.

Media is another area ripe for synergies. Although Y&R’s The Media Edge is poised to remain a separate brand, it will share software and back-end systems with MindShare, the combined media operation of Ogilvy & Mather and JWT.

Inside Y&R, staffers characterized the mood as “weird” and sour, with some grumbling about the size of certain executive severance packages.

The deal closed without so much as a press release. Last Tuesday, Y&R shares traded for the last time on the NYSE before settling at 48 1/16, down a bit from the day before.

On Wednesday, “YNR” was replaced by “KG” (King Pharmaceuticals) on the S&P 500. And 2 1/2 years after the venerable, 75-year-old agency went public at $25 a share, Y&R had become part of a British holding company. “The event happened and life goes on,” said Dolan. “It has been pretty smooth and I think part of that is that there was enough warm-up before.” Chris Casaburi