Levy seeks fresh start with Bell appointment

Maurice Levy, the Publicis chairman, this week threw an olive branch to his newly appointed True North counterpart, David Bell, with an offer to normalise relationships between the feuding former global partners.

Maurice Levy, the Publicis chairman, this week threw an olive

branch to his newly appointed True North counterpart, David Bell, with

an offer to normalise relationships between the feuding former global

partners.



Levy indicated that Publicis might be willing not only to retain the

French group’s stakeholding of almost 10 per cent in True North but even

increase it.



’We could sell our shareholding, swap it or grow it,’ he said. ’I have a

duty to leave all options open.’



But Levy’s offer brought an uncomprising response from Bell. ’Publicis

isn’t part of our strategic thinking,’ he said.



The cross-shareholding arrangements between the groups are a legacy of

their worldwide alliance which finally blew apart when Levy went to the

US courts in an attempt to block True North’s takeover of Bozell and

mounted a failed hostile bid for True North itself.



Levy’s hope is that the appointment of Bell, the former Bozell chief

executive, to take over as the boss of True North after Bruce Mason’s

retirement (Campaign, 19 March), will allow the relationship to be

redrawn on a clean sheet.



The conflict between the French and US groups evolved into a personal

confrontation between Levy and Mason. Levy, whose only contact with Bell

has been a message congratulating him on his appointment, said he

believed his arrival could help end the bad blood.



Publicis, True North’s largest shareholder, has been holding on to its

stake, believing that the US group’s share price is improving but is not

yet high enough to justify selling.



Levy said Bell’s arrival could, at the very least, enable the alliance

to be dismantled cleanly. But he added: ’The partnership could stay.

It’s not a problem. If we believe Bell is a good chairman, we might

increase our shares.



’Bell carries no historical baggage. Our companies have large stakes in

each other and it’s my duty to take care of True North’s interests just

as those of other shareholders. It’s in the best interests of both of us

that we should have normal relationships.’



Next week: David Bell interview.



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