Coughlin joins from Pharmacia, which merged with Pfizer earlier this year, where he was chief financial officer.
The last chief operating officer of Interpublic was John Dooner, who was subsequently made chief executive officer and then presided over a disastrous period in Interpublic's history, including accounting scandals and a collapse in share price. Dooner was demoted in February this year to the role of chief executive of McCann-Erickson.
He was replaced by David Bell as chairman and CEO of Interpublic, who is seen as a safe pair of hands on Wall Street. Coughlin's strong background as a chief financial officer of three major multinationals -- Pharmacia, Nabisco and Sterling Winthrop -- is also likely to make him a popular choice with the financial community.
However, shares in Interpublic were down by 0.85% when the market closed last night, trading at $11.65, a fall of 10 cents. The company, which owns the advertising agencies Lowe & Partners, Foote Cone & Belding and McCann-Erickson, is due to reveal its first-quarter earnings today. Revenues are expected to be down by more than 5% to $1.3bn (£815m).
"Chris has significant experience managing large organisations undergoing transition and he also brings direct operational and international marketing experience to the table. The board of directors and I saw a number of great candidates, but none had as impressive a combination of superior intellect and breadth of perspective," Bell said.
Sean Orr will remain as Interpublic's chief financial officer, reporting to Coughlin. Coughlin is charged with working with the heads of Interpublic's business units to improve margins and ensure financial responsibility and accountability.
Coughlin, aged 50, began his career with Ernst & Young. In 1981, he joined Sterling Winthrop, rising through the ranks to become vice-president of finance first for the Pacific Rim region and then for international operations. He was named chief financial officer in 1993.
In 1996, he joined Nabisco Holdings as executive vice-president and chief financial officer. He was promoted eight months later to the role of president of Nabisco International. A year later, he was recruited by Pharmacia as chief financial officer and was a key player in its merger with Monsanto in 2000 and the 2003 merger with Pfizer.
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