For people interested in power, and who spend half their lives in
pursuit of it, giving it up is one of life’s tougher calls. We can all
think of people who hire pygmies in order to appear more of a giant and
cling on to the top job.
Others deliberately hire greater talents and must deal with the
consequences of working themselves out of a job.
Few agencies manage succession adequately. This is partly because of the
culture of short-termism by which the industry is still hampered, but
mostly it’s far more basic: egos do not allow senior executives to
believe others are capable of doing their jobs.
Succession issues are everywhere. Recently, I interviewed John Dooner
(feature, next week), annointed successor to Phil Geier at the
Interpublic Group; then came the belated official announcement (a month
after it was revealed in Campaign) of Steve Blamer’s appointment as the
even more belated heir-designate to the venerable Ed Meyer at Grey New
York. While BBDO seeks a successor to Allen Rosenshine, DDB’s Keith
Rheinhard is grooming Ken Kaess. Then there is Tom Bell. Within months
of succeeding the extraordinary Peter Georgescu at Young & Rubicam, he
must decide whether to lend his approval to WPP’s bid for Y&R and, in so
doing, cede the power he has just won.
Geier and Meyer presided over periods of spectacular growth at their
respective companies. But the reality of business in a bull market and a
global economy is that no chief executive can now be satisfied with the
company’s performance without reference to rivals.
Grey is a good example. Quarter upon quarter, year after year, Meyer
produced sterling growth figures. But suddenly, with global mergers,
diversification into non-traditional advertising services and the
new-media boom, other agency groups powered ahead faster. Grey, now
firmly in the chasing pack, began to look sluggish.
Whether the septuagenarian Meyer’s age is really an issue or not, the
fact that it is perceived to be so means that it is.
IPG is unquestionably in the global premier league, with Geier himself
still capable of the bold move. He came close to challenging the status
quo on client conflict with his thwarted attempt to buy MacManus last
year. However, there is no doubt that Dooner will bring a renewed burst
of energy to IPG, flush as he is with success from McCann-Erickson, now
one of the best-performing of all agency networks.
Meanwhile, Bell has just taken the reins of a major agency group. He
wouldn’t be human if for this reason alone he was reluctant to let
But he is now the CEO of a major publicly quoted company, with
responsibilities that extend far beyond any personal agenda. Bell’s
decision will prove whether he is a worthy successor to Georgescu or
not, whatever the personal cost.