Publicis Boss Lévy Dismisses Sorrell as 'Little Englishman'

07 January 2009

PARIS: Napoleon was fortunate. There was only one of him. Unlike the hothouse world of global marketing services holding companies, whose collective boardrooms house a cornucopia of Bonaparteian executive egos.

Not, of course, that such a description applies to Publicis Groupe ceo Maurice Lévy or his WPP Group counterpart Sir Martin Sorrell, each of whom is conferred with a sensitive personality that can all too easily be blighted by contradiction.

Speaking this week to the Financial Times, the former aired his ire at the adland knight's innocent and helpful suggestion (at a Barcelona conference in November) that Publicis should address itself to the acquisition of its US rival Interpublic Group.

Such a deal, growled the usually urbane Lévy, is "the fantasy of a little Englishman trying to stir things up." He added: "This man is more interested in the affairs of other businesses than in managing his own."

The duo are not known for their cordial relations.

On other issues, however the French tycoon was sweetness and light personified. Asked about the global downturn that threatens to take adland by its fiscal throat, Lévy appeared to relish the challenge: "It's the type of situation that excites my neurons," he replied.

"Crisis situations are those that allow one to do better things afterwards, to break with routine. Nothing is more boring than business as usual.”

Publicis, which he has helmed for the last decade, would, he insisted, fare better than its competitors and emerge stronger from this recession, as it has in each previous crisis during his forty years with the company.

Emerging from Pollyanna mode, Lévy conceded that Publicis will see a sales decline this year, with growth in its digital and emerging market businesses failing to compensate fully for the decline in its traditional activities.

"My objective is to compensate for nearly all of what the market is going to lose,” he told the FT. "Realistically speaking, if we make up for a large part of what the market is going to lose, I will have done a good job. I will have consolidated the group."

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff