Opinion: Perspective - Rodes' elevation gives bite to Havas/Aegis union

The term "corporate raider" is used less frequently as a sobriquet for Vincent Bollore these days. Last year, when he started accruing his now-significant shareholding in Havas, many predicted he would seize power, sell off the holding company's assets and move on to a new pet project. Instead, he's hung in and made some good, long-term, decisions.

The most significant of which was last week's announcement that Fernando Rodes is Havas' new chief executive. And a very low-key one it was. Tucked away at the very bottom of the release revealing Havas' 2005 results was a two-line sentence saying Philippe Wahl would be replaced with Rodes.

This reveals something about the personality of Rodes. He's old money (and has lots of it). He's a class act; there's no detectable flashiness.

And this is just one of the characteristics that makes him so admired by his colleagues.

Nevertheless, Media Planning Group, which Rodes has been running since 1999, is not a runaway success. It's the tenth-biggest media network in the world, according to Recma, whose figures also show that it grew at a much slower rate than its WPP- and Publicis-owned rivals in 2005.

The theory goes, however, that the network's potential has never been harnessed by Havas. These days, for a global network to do well, its holding company parent needs to get involved. So with Rodes at the helm of Havas, expect MPG to receive more central support than it has in the past. There is untapped potential at MPG, new markets to explore, and growth is something that Havas' shareholders would like to see more of. IPG's Universal and Initiative are weak just now; there are some rich pickings for a hungry media network.

Bollore's decision to appoint Rodes makes sense on other levels too.

He combines a business background with knowledge of the advertising market (his predecessor Wahl had a lot of the former, but none of the latter). A one-time merchant banker, Rodes knows how to talk Bollore's language.

And, all importantly, Rodes' elevation brings Havas closer to Aegis.

Bollore already owns 25 per cent of Aegis. Having a global chief executive with a media background makes Havas a more credible partner. In addition, Rodes is a long-term friend and associate of Aegis' soon-to-arrive global chief, Mainardo de Nardis. Even mentioning their friendship in this column is probably over-stating its significance, but it's interesting nevertheless.

The Rodes family is a significant shareholder in Havas. Perhaps more importantly than that, it is also one of the most important business families in Spain. Fernando's father Leopoldo, for instance, led Barcelona's successful bid to host the Olympics in 1992. In handing a leading role to Fernando Rodes, Bollore has allied his money with that of the Spanish business community. This could come in handy if a greater shareholding in Aegis is on the cards.

Michael Baulk, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's outgoing group chairman and chief executive, leaves behind him a proud legacy. He joined David Abbott, Peter Mead and Adrian Vickers from Ogilvy & Mather in 1986 and brought with him that agency's famous "gentlemen with brains" culture as well as its business nous.

He lent management prowess to a mid-sized agency whose growth curve was slowing. It was Baulk's skills that did the deal with BBDO, something that enabled AMV to take on international accounts and become the UK's biggest agency. Such was his contribution, the agency's founders offered to add his name to theirs above the Marylebone Road office door. The class act that he is, he declined, simply saying: "I'm a manager who was hired to do a job."

- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.

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