London: Publicis Groupe SA chief executive officer (CEO) Maurice Levy will step down after 2016 following a failed $35 billion merger with peer Omnicom Group Inc. and more than 40 years at the French advertising company.

Levy, 72, and Kevin Roberts, a member of the management board and chief of Publicis’s Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide unit, will stand down after 2016 accounts are approved. No successor to Levy was named in Tuesday’s statement. Publicis, the world’s third-largest ad company, is also appointing a new expanded management team to steer the Paris-based company as it increases digital operations.

Publicis’s planned merger with Omnicom, which would have created the world’s largest advertising company, was abandoned in May after executives clashed over how to run the combined entity. The deal was seen as Levy’s legacy to the company after hinting in recent years he was keen to retire. Disputes over key management roles as well as tax and regulatory hurdles caused the merger to collapse almost a year after it was toasted with champagne on the Champs Elysees.

“If the Omnicom deal had gone ahead there would’ve been a bit more succession planning with regards to Levy’s own position," said Alex DeGroote, a media analyst at Peel Hunt in London. “They’ve got to reinstate their story to the investment community and to their own staff and clients."

The shares rose 0.9% to €56.90 at 11.21am in Paris, giving the company a market value of €12.5 billion ($16.2 billion).

Martin Sorrell

A new management team installed at Publicis will add top executives from the company’s agencies, including Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Laura Desmond, ZenithOptimedia CEO Steve King, Publicis Worldwide CEO Arthur Sadoun and the chief strategist of the group, Rishad Tobaccowala.

Jean-Yves Naouri, Publicis’s chief operating officer, won’t be re-appointed to the expanded management team. Naouri has been widely rumoured over the years to be a possible successor to Levy.

Levy, whose verbal sparring in the press with WPP Plc CEO Martin Sorrell was the talk of the ad industry for years, said in May he would lay out his succession plan by this month as his CEO mandate ran through 2015. Sorrell leads the world’s largest advertising company.

In July, Publicis reported sales that missed analysts’ estimates while Omnicom had the fastest growth in more than two years, underscoring the difficulties facing the French ad company since the collapse of the $35 billion combination. Levy likened the deal’s failure to a breakup that’s preferable to a messy divorce. Bloomberg

With assistance from Amy Thomson in London.

Close