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
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
’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.