Interpublic Group chairman Michael I Roth has become the beleaguered group's second chief executive inside two years - assuming the latter role with immediate effect yesterday (Wednesday). He takes over from David A Bell (61), chief executive since February 2003.

A question mark has loomed over Bell's future as ceo since December when it became known that his contract, which expires March 2005, had yet to be renewed [WAMN: 23-Dec-04].

At the time, IPG declined comment on rumors that Bell was sitting in the departure lounge, albeit adding helpfully: "All speculation aside, the fact is the partnership between Mr Bell and Mr. Roth is working out well, as expected."

As indeed is apparently the case. Although Bell steps down as ceo and also relinquishes the title of president, he is to become Roth's co-chairman. Truth is that from day one of his appointment, many in the industry saw Bell as a caretaker, a safe pair of hands to stem the group's torrent of financial and operation problems.

Roth (59), who has chaired IPG since July, trained both as a lawyer and accountant. He previously led insurance services company the Mony Group and has held senior posts at Primerica, the consumer financial services arm of Citigroup.

He is a tad sensitive over charges that he lacked advertising industry experience prior to joining Interpublic's board in February 2002. "Before I joined the Mony Group, I didn't know much about the insurance industry, either," Roth retorted in a telephone interview with the New York Times.

Bell purports to be happy with his sidelining. "The shift is something I want," he said, claiming it will allow him to focus on his strengths - specifically client retention and new business. Roth too will concentrate on his specialization: operations and strategy.

Another top IPG executive put it more colorfully. Quoth Donny Deutsch, chief executive of IPG's highly successful Deutsch agency: "[Roth is] a street-smart financial guy you can put in front of clients, who understands a street fight, which is what we're in right now."

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