Editorial: Roth will need time and talent to turn around IPG

As the curtain descends on David Bell's juggling act at Interpublic, a global audience waits to see how good his successor, Michael Roth, will be at keeping lots of plates spinning simultaneously. In taking over the role of chief executive, Roth knows well enough the demands on him will be heavy. Not least because running a communications holding company is a more complex task than it was when IPG's Marion Harper pioneered it in the early 60s.

Today, the job isn't just about hitting the numbers and keeping Wall Street happy. With IPG, WPP, Omnicom and Publicis Groupe having become the modern equivalent of the old full-service agency, the trend is for mega-pitches to be contested by supergroups rather than their networks.

WPP's chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, epitomises the all-round qualities needed. A consummate multitasker, he is equally at home creating more value for shareholders as he is eating kimchi and ingratiating himself with Samsung executives in South Korea in order to win their business.

Whether or nor Roth is equally versatile remains to be seen. An accountant and lawyer by background, he takes over with an established reputation as an astute moneyman and a bullshit-free manager. Moreover, he is no stranger to running companies in peril, having transformed the MONY life insurance group from near-bankruptcy into a vibrant financial services operation. It remains to be seen if he can replicate this success at IPG, still the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission probe and yet to fully resolve the legacy of a reckless acquisition spree.

Bell, drafted in to repair IPG's relationship with Wall Street after the McCann Erickson debacle, appears to have run out of ideas and lost his appetite for the fight. Those who know Roth say he will not let sentimentality get in the way of what needs to be done and will not shirk from asking hard questions of underperforming units.

All well and good. But IPG's problems are not entirely fiscal. Last year, the group's Initiative media subsidiary lost Unilever, its oldest and most prestigious client in Europe, while Universal McCann waved farewell to Nestle.

Replacing these needs not only sharp financial skills but also deep knowledge of how marketing services work. Roth has the former. Time will show if he has the latter.