Havas has installed its top media man, Fernando Rodes, as its chief executive, fuelling speculation that the group is looking for a tie-up with the media buying company Aegis.
Rodes, the chief executive of the Havas-owned Media Planning Group, replaces Philippe Wahl, who steps down from the role after less than a year. Wahl, a former banker, who was appointed to the job despite having no experience of advertising or media, is said to have found it difficult to establish a rapport with the heads of the Havas operating companies.
Vincent Bollore, the Havas chairman and principal shareholder, told Campaign that Rodes' appointment was intended to give Havas' media services a real edge over their competitors. He already has a 25 per cent stake in Aegis.
"Wahl was necessary when we were in a big fight for control of Havas," he said. "We don't need an outsider now."
News of Rodes' appointment came as Havas, the sixth-largest communications group in the world, reported a drop in its full-year operating profits, which fell well below analysts' expectations.
Last year's revenue dipped by 2 per cent from £1.07 billion to £1.05 billion. However, net income rose by 8 per cent to £42.7 million and organic growth rose by 2.5 per cent.
The figures reflect a tough trading environment for Havas, which was hit by the loss of ad budgets from Intel and Volkswagen last year.
The group also saw a sharp rise in operating expenses. This was partly owing to the £7.2 million severance package paid to the former chief executive, Alain de Pouzilhac. De Pouzilhac lost the boardroom struggle against Bollore late last year.
A further £7.9 million was set aside to cover litigation against the group by other executives who have left the company since Bollore arrived last summer.
Rodes has headed MPG since its formation in 1999 as a result of a merger between the former Havas media division and a company owned by the Rodes family. The deal made the Rodes family one of the biggest Havas shareholders.
Opinion, page 19.