Interpublic CFO Quits, Ceding Hotseat to New COO

04 July 2003

Sean F Orr (48), chief financial officer of troubled agency holding company Interpublic Group, is to stand down on August 31, handing his responsibilities to recently hired chief operating officer Christopher J Coughlan (50).

The appointment of the latter two months ago, fresh from the born-rich fiscal tranquillity of the pharmaceutical industry, was seen in many quarters as the writing on the wall for Orr, whose reign had witnessed severe accounting irregularities at IPG’s McCann-Erickson WorldGroup.

These resulted in series of profit restatements culminating in March’s admission that some $347 million (€302.91m; £208.79m) had been incorrectly reported necessitating a $181.3 million profits writedown. There is also a class action lawsuit pending which names Orr alongside former chief executives John J Dooner , Phil Geier and others.

Orr follows in the footsteps of Dooner who walked the plank in February, returning to his former job as ceo of the McCann-Erickson network, his 'homecoming' eased by a handsome IPG retirement package.

The PR machine has been working overtime to portray Orr’s departure as voluntary. A staff memo from current chairman/ceo David Bell states: “Sean's decision is just that, his decision.”

Bell later told the New York Times: “Sean contributed to the gathering of a strong financial team to help us drive through some financial storms and balance-sheet issues. Moving forward, with that behind us, we'll shift to a very strong operational focus.”

The NYT also tapped a favored talking head for comment. Opined Alan J Gottesman, of West End Communications / Consulting in New York: “The heavy lifting has already been done, so you don't need both of them in there. Sean already did it, and left Chris a pretty clean plate.”

To Orr himself, the last word. “Most of the corporate financial challenges of the company have been addressed,” he said. “So rightfully [it] is turning the attention to operations, which is Chris’s long suit.”

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff