GLOBAL BRIEF: ’Compromise’ boss could be True North’s saviour - True North has a new chief executive, but the search was long, Emma Hall says

It took a whole year and an executive search company to find him, but last week True North finally announced the name of its new chairman and chief executive.

It took a whole year and an executive search company to find him,

but last week True North finally announced the name of its new chairman

and chief executive.



And he was there on the sidelines all along - David Bell, 55, the chief

executive of Bozell Worldwide, steps up at last to take over from Bruce

Mason who retires at the end of this month.



Shareholders breathed a sigh of relief when the news was announced last

Thursday, pushing up True North’s share price by dollars 5 a shot as

they exhaled.



But was this just a knee-jerk reaction to the end of the uncertainty, or

is Bell really the right man for the dollars 1 million-a-year job?



The major surprise is that Mason’s replacement came from the Bozell

network, which was only bought by True North a year ago. Most observers

were looking the other way, scouring FCB or external possibles for True

North’s new chairman. This might suggest that Bell was not on the

original shortlist, although one Bozell insider comments: ’People change

- and David Bell has grown a lot since Bruce Mason announced his

retirement. What didn’t seem right a year ago makes perfect sense

now.’



Bell is universally viewed as a compromise choice, brought in at the

last minute because no external candidate could be found. However,

everyone connected with True North is willing him to succeed. He is

described as ’refreshing’, ’honest’ and ’good with people’. Already,

senior executives are eagerly predicting that he will ’add sparkle and

pizzazz’.



Certainly, Bell has an agreeable agency background - he joined Bozell in

1975 and 20 years later was made chief executive of Bozell

Worldwide.



He has also been chairman of the American Association of Advertising

Agencies and is currently chairman of the Advertising Educational

Foundation.



But to boost the Chicago-based True North - the sixth largest global

communications holding company - up to the ranks of WPP, Omnicom or

Interpublic, Bell will need more than just sparkle. He made a promising

start three weeks ago when he reacted strongly to a leaked memo

detailing the group’s sluggish growth, internal culture clashes and

troubled relations between the company and its subsidiaries.



Bell’s response was to put out a memo saying staff should be pleased

that True North ’has the will and resolve to address its issues head

on’.



This does not sound like a man who intends to shy away from the

challenges ahead.



As well as dealing with internal troubles, Bell will have to repair

relations with Wall Street. Whatever he achieves, Bell is the answer to

only one of the many questions hanging over True North’s future.

Observers will still be wondering whether it will thrive independently

with smart acquisitions and a strong global media resource, or be

gobbled up by one of the bigger players. Either way, Bell is undoubtedly

aware of the enormity of his task and has decided to give it his best

shot.



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