Maurice Lévy, arguably the globe's most astute agency boss (along with WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell), is maintaining a poker-face over Publicis Groupe's interest in acquiring compatriot French marketing services group Havas.
There is wide speculation that Lévy, chairman and chief executive of the world's fourth largest agency holding company, is in the frame to bid for Havas – which is currently under siege by French corporate raider Vincent Bolloré who has recently built a stake of over 16% in the company.
Lévy told the Financial Times that he did not rule out a bid for the rival group: "If there is a For Sale sign on Havas, we will look at it." But his enthusiasm for a deal was cooling in inverse proportion to the price rise in Havas stock triggered by Bolloré's share-buying spree.
Havas shares have soared 20% since late July, even allowing for Wednesday's 4% slide after news that a major client (Intel) had put its global account into review.
Lévy described Publicis' present stock price as "quite inflated", a fact he claims has cooled his interest. "If you look at the multiples, they are well above the range they should be. The status quo suits us very well," he averred.
He denied any chauvinistic motive in bidding simply to keep Sorrell and WPP from acquiring a French national icon. "My responsibility is first to my company and second when it comes to my country. I have to accept competition in my country. I shall not fight just for this."
Lévy also dismissed speculation that his friendship with Bolloré should be seen as a sign they were in league over a Havas deal. "People in Paris will tell you that I know everyone," Lévy said. "It doesn't signal anything."
Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff