Bolloré-Appointed CEO Cites Havas’ Weaknesses

Almost from the moment TBWA worldwide CEO Jean-Marie Dru turned down the Havas CEO post last month, Vincent Bolloré began to focus on a new leader who would come from what one insider called the “financial community.” And Bolloré, Havas’ largest stockholder and now chairman of the Paris-based holding company, characteristically got exactly what he wanted: newly named CEO Philippe Wahl.

One executive described Wahl, a former president of La Caisse Na-tionale des Caisses d’Epargne banking group, as “a known quantity inside French money circles” and a confidante trusted by Bolloré to “put the financial house in order.”

Wahl himself waited barely a week to declare impatience with what he sees as a disconnect between Havas’ human assets and its performance.

In a July 21 memo to the Havas troops, Wahl noted, “I have become aware of our strengths, the pool of talent, the desire for change, the thirst for new projects and the spirit of innovation, all of which confirmed the value of our teams. This human capital is in contrast with the results accumulated by Havas these past few years. In this granted difficult context, the profitability posted by the Group has substantially declined, despite a slight improvement in 2004. This deterioration in profitability has given rise to a number of questions emanating from the financial community, and heavily handicaps the Group’s value. This evolution has resulted in Havas falling behind the global competition and is a threat to our growth potential.”

Wahl was unavailable for comment.

As for the ongoing discussion among industry and Havas insiders about Bolloré’s ultimate intention for the parent of Arnold, Euro RSCG and Media Planning Group—based on his track record of wresting control of companies and then striking deals to sell some or all of them—he now says he wants Havas to stay intact.

“I have no intention of disposing of the Group’s activities,” Bolloré wrote in a memo that went out the same day as Wahl’s. He added, “Havas must remain an independent Group.”

Even as the intrigue about the holding company’s top jobs diminishes, a similar issue smolders at the operating level, as Euro worldwide chairman Jim Heekin negotiates with WPP Group to inherit the CEO post at Grey [Adweek Online, July 12]. Heekin, in Paris for budget meetings two weeks ago, met with Bolloré. As of press time, negotiations between Grey and Heekin continued, and one source said, “It’s now between the lawyers.”