During a recent, early-morning phone conversation with Adweek, the normally loquacious Andrew Benett was strangely quiet when asked to explain his new role as Havas Worldwide co-president, sharing responsibility for the shop’s global business. This, amid industry chatter that he’s actually insulted about the new gig and looking for another one.
“I’m focused on what we have to do, long-term and globally. One can get distracted by things that distract you, but I haven’t been,” said Benett, denying that he’s seeking other employment.
During the same call, Benett’s boss, Havas Worldwide CEO David Jones, dominated the conversation, stressing that the promotion in September of U.K. group chairman Kate Robertson to co-president did not amount to a demotion for Benett. (Benett returned to his old home Havas Worldwide this past January, moving over from corporate sibling Arnold, where he served as worldwide CEO.)
“This is more about empowering Kate than changing [Benett’s] job,” Jones said.
At the French network’s New York flagship—already known for its frequent executive changeover and co-management arrangements—the past few months in particular have been marked by upheaval.
Aside from the shift in duties of the very ambitious Benett, there has been additional executive shuffling. Last month, CCO, global brands and New York chairman Lee Garfinkel departed, following Matt Ryan, who was co-chairman. Among Benett’s hires are Darren Moran, New York CCO; Vin Farrell, global chief content officer; and Matt Weiss, global CMO.
Even more significant have been changes outside New York. In June, Havas announced that Yannick Bolloré, a high-level exec at Havas who has been involved in media operations, will soon take over for his father as chairman of the family-controlled holding company, Havas.
“It’s a bit of a soap opera at Havas Worldwide right now,” said one observer. “It’s all very French where the ambiguity is all very deliberate to let things play out. No one has any clarity.”
Said another source: “You can’t believe the infighting going on in New York. Who do I report to? Andrew? David? Is Andrew going around David directly to the French?”
It all plays into rampant speculation inside Havas Worldwide these days where tensions between Jones and Benett have risen visibly. While Jones used to be a Benett supporter, multiple sources said Jones’ trust was eroded after unexpected account losses (Dell and Volvo) following Benett’s exit from Arnold, as well as earlier losses in the wake of Benett's tenure as co-CEO of Euro RSCG, now Havas. Counters Jones: “If we had been unhappy with Andrew, would we have promoted him?”
Havas has won some new business this year under Benett’s watch—including Dish Network and Green Mountain. Yet other business has failed to advance. That hints at even greater frustration inside the agency. “David has gotten Havas on lists, and there’s been no conversion,” said someone close to the company. “He’s really annoyed at a certain executive level at the company. He’s putting his foot down hard, which is not his style.”