Havas Pursues TBWA’s Jean-Marie Dru

NEW YORK TBWA Worldwide chief executive Jean-Marie Dru late Friday still had not decided if he would accept an offer to succeed Alain de Pouzilhac as CEO and chairman of Havas, sources said.

“An offer’s been made to Jean-Marie Dru, and now it’s up to him to make that decision. I think that by Monday or Tuesday, at the latest, we’ll have the answer,” said Havas board member Jacques Séguéla.

He added, “We would hope to have the new CEO at the helm of Havas by August 15.”

Dru could not immediately be reached for comment.

The embattled de Pouzilhac agreed to resign on Tuesday [Adweek Online, June 21]. Board member Richard Colker will act as Havas interim chairman and CEO, backed by a team of three directors: Ed Eskandarian, Fernando Rodes and Séguéla, who will take responsibility for the company’s executive functions.

Investor Vincent Bolloré, who owns 22 percent of Havas, has been talking to Dru on and off for months, according to sources.

Sources said Dru is Bolloré’s preference for a permanent CEO [Adweek, June 20].

De Pouzilhac remains on the board and will continue to advise the company, according to a statement issued by Havas.

Colker is a managing partner of Colker, Gelardin & Co., an investment firm. Eskandarian is chairman of Havas’ Arnold. Rodés is executive vice president and CEO of Havas’ Media Planning Group. Séguéla is Havas’ evp and chief creative officer.

Two weeks ago, de Pouzilhac lost his fight to keep Bolloré from seizing four seats on the holding company’s board, but the feud between the blue-blooded holding company chieftain and the corporate raider raged on.

Reports of de Pouzilhac’s imminent resignation flew through the French press late last week as Bolloré kept the heat on his battered rival, meeting with de Pouzilhac to discuss “management issues”; taunting him by telling the French press he was surprised de Pouzilhac had stayed on; touting a deal with Sebastian Holdings, which owns 4 percent of Havas, to sell its interest to Bolloré if it decides to unload its shares; and increasing his stake in the company from 20 to 22 percent.

On Tuesday, the Havas board met in Paris for the first time since Bolloré’s June 9 triumph, when de Pouzilhac failed to get his compensation passed and two of his board allies re-elected. That meeting lasted more than six hours.

Dru, who has been CEO of TBWA since April 2001, is said to be seriously mulling the chance to step up to run a holding company that, at an estimated $2 billion in revenue, is rougly twice the size of TBWA, albeit much smaller than its holding-company rivals.

Dru addressed TBWA’s operating group at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes Tuesday morning and told them that Havas was going to name a “president,” but that he wasn’t taking that job, leaving some group members to note that the wording did not entirely clarify his future intentions and left open the question of who will be Havas’ CEO. (Dru was apparently making a reference to Colker’s interim appointment.)

Despite its instability and small size relative to other holding companies, Havas is still revered in France, and Dru, who made a name for himself leading the French agency BDDP, could be tempted by the opportunity to be a “national hero” if he could turn the company around, one executive said. Havas “has a national profile,” he said, noting its historical connections to the French government.

In a staff memo on Thursday, Séguéla called Dru, “One of the most brilliant advertising men in the world. He has made his agency one of the creative and managerial hits of the decade. His arrival would be an opportunity for us to go farther, higher, stronger. I want to help. Without a merging of skills, there is no success; without shared enthusiasm, there is no creativity.”

De Pouzilhac’s farewell memo was obtained by Adweek. It reads: “Today is my last day at Havas. I simply wanted to thank you all. To tell you know that I deeply love this company, that I love what you have managed to achieve by re-launching it. To tell you that I am so proud of you all. Today, I have a heavy heart. But, as requested by the board of directors, I will loyally assist in the transition and help the new chairman and chief executive officer of Havas, Richard Colker. He will continue Havas’ great adventure with you.”

He concluded, “I ask you to keep Havas strong, embodying the values that constitute our culture by preserving its independence, its audacity and its entrepreneurial spirit for our clients. We must now return to serenity: it is indispensable for the continuation of our success. A new chapter is opening for Havas, and it holds great promise. I leave knowing that I have always been able to count on you. Thank you. You have all my affection.”

—with Andrew McMains, David Gianatasio and Noreen O’Leary

This story updates an item posted on June 21 with news that an offer has been made to Dru.