Wren, Dru on Why TBWA CEO Stayed

LOS ANGELES “Please don’t go.”

That was the last thing Omnicom chief executive John Wren said to TBWA worldwide CEO Jean-Marie Dru after a three-hour lunch over wine in Cannes last week, where the two men talked about Dru’s accomplishments in his four years atop TBWA, even as Havas’ impassioned attempt to woo the 59-year-old Frenchman to replace Alain de Pouzilhac ratcheted up from ad-industry spectacle to international business soap opera.

The first thing Dru said to Wren when they sat down to begin the lunch was, “It’s not about money. This has nothing to do with that.”

Remarkably, Dru didn’t ask for anything to stay and wasn’t offered anything, and he said he only asked Havas financially to match his Omnicom contract (signed in April, that deal provides for a yearly salary of $1 million-plus, minimum aggregate bonus payments of $6 million for the next three years, plus various perks).

In the end, Wren said today, “[Dru] was unbelievably true to his word [about money not being the issue]. And I give him tremendous credit for that. This decision, because of the importance of Havas in France, is an incredible re-affirmation of my relationship with Jean-Marie but more important, the relationship he has established with the company that he has built worldwide and its 8,000 employees.”

In fitting Gallic style, Dru said he’s staying with TBWA because of love.

“At the end of the day, it’s a simple story, and a beautiful story,” he said. “It came down to the fact that I could not leave TBWA or those people.” He also cited his “very special friendship” with Wren and TBWA worldwide chairman and chief creative officer Lee Clow, whom Dru said “has been unbelievable,” as factors in his decision to stay. “They’ve been very strong friends,” he said of Wren and Clow.

In a memo to the staff of TBWA today, Dru hit the same note, saying, “The reason behind my decision is the unique spirit that exists at TBWA, and which can make us the ultimate reference for worldwide communications groups. Many of you have expressed signs of support, directly or indirectly. I’d like to thank each one of you for this. Your support made all the difference in that it demonstrated the incomparable strength, goodwill and solidarity that are unique to TBWA.”

Dru concluded, “I would also like to thank each of our clients, in particular those who expressed their affection and attachment over the past two weeks.”

The will-he-stay-or-will-he-go drama that hypnotized the industry for more than a week would have ended last night, when Dru made his decision and tried to call Wren from Paris, but the holding company leader, who doesn’t carry a cell phone, was at his son’s baseball game. They connected this morning—less than 24 hours after Havas established a compensation and selection committee “to look at the plan proposed to Jean-Marie Dru or whomever they choose” to replace de Pouzilhac, as a Havas rep explained it.

Today, the rebuffed holding company released a terse statement that said, “The new Compensation and Selection Committee appointed by the Havas board of directors at its meeting yesterday is actively pursuing the work begun since the departure of Alain de Pouzilhac to determine his successor.” Among those reportedly candidate-worthy are Mercedes Erra and Stephane Fouks, leaders of Havas’ powerful Euro RSCG France operation. (Havas owns Euro RSCG, Arnold and Media Planning Group.)

Despite some teasing and good-natured ribbing at TBWA events last week, Wren and Dru stayed true to an agreement (made over lunch on Wednesday) not to formally discuss the issue until they left Cannes. Nevertheless, as Dru was mulling whether or not to accept Havas’ offer or remain at TBWA, his story threatened to smother the ad festival itself. Dru became the subject of a fevered guessing game about what he would do. Havas executives in Paris and Cannes showered Dru with florid praise in the press, while Wren and the rest of the TBWA team and even clients proclaimed their ardent affection and respect for Dru at various lunches, dinners and parties throughout the festival week.

Dru was widely regarded as the first choice of the company’s de facto headman, financier Vincent Bolloré, who now owns 22 percent of Havas. De Pouzilhac resigned one week ago [Adweek Online, June 21]. He stepped aside during the first Havas board meeting since losing a bruising battle with Bolloré, who won four seats on the Havas board during a tumultuous shareholder meeting on June 9. At the board meeting, Havas announced that during the transition to a new CEO, board member Richard Colker would “exercise the functions of chairman and chief executive officer,” backed by a trio of board members and top Havas operating execs, including Arnold’s Ed Eskandarian, Media Planning Group’s Fernando Rodés and Havas director Jacques Séguéla.

“Mercedes and Stephane really don’t have the experience to run a holding company, although they are famous in their own right over there,” said one Havas insider. “I don’t think [Havas will] drop everything just to put a body in and they’ve said as much since they have the interim team in place. Maybe they are looking for an eminence grise from Bolloré’s Rolodex of who’s who in French business. Wherever Alain is today, he’s laughing.”

This story updates an item posted earlier today with commentary from Wren, Dru and others.