WPP has hired Robert Guay to replace Satish Korde as global chief executive of GTB, the specialist unit that looks after Ford, WPP’s biggest client.
The company confirmed the management shake-up in response to an inquiry from Campaign and told GTB’s staff today.
Guay, who recently left his role as executive vice-president and managing director of the Boston and Detroit offices of Publicis Groupe’s Digitas, will join GTB at the end of July.
Digitas previously said in May that Guay was leaving to pursue new opportunities.
He has automotive expertise because he worked on General Motors while at Digitas, where he spent eight years, and previously on Cadillac during his time at Fallon Minneapolis.
Korde, global chief executive of GTB since 2011, will become chairman emeritus of GTB, "assisting Ford on strategic projects around the world", according to a WPP statement.
A person close to WPP maintained that Korde’s move marks an amicable changing of the guard, but another source suggested there has been tension.
There was no statement from Korde in WPP’s announcement about Guay’s appointment.
GTB is based in Michigan, where Ford has its headquarters, and serves as an umbrella group for more than 20 WPP agencies that work for the client around the world.
Korde’s team suffered a major blow when the car brand moved its estimated $800m global creative account from GTB to Omnicom’s BBDO in October 2018 after a competitive review.
GTB still handles a raft of services including media planning and buying, digital, production and PR for Ford.
The loss came just weeks after Mark Read took charge as WPP chief executive in September 2018 with a mission to simplify the holding company structure.
Guay will report to Read and "lead the evolution of the agency’s offer" and its relationship with Ford as well as a handful of other clients.
Read said: "Ford Motor Company is our biggest client worldwide, with GTB at the heart of an integrated-service model that brings together the talent and capabilities of WPP companies across the full marketing spectrum.
"Robert’s leadership credentials, automotive experience and understanding of the role of technology in marketing will ensure that Ford continues to benefit from the very best of WPP as we reshape our offer around its needs."
Guay spent his early career in digital agencies, co-founding Red 98 and launching Click Nineteen.
WPP noted that the new GTB boss "brings 25 years of experience covering all aspects of customer and brand connections, and deep knowledge of performance, digital and data-driven marketing".
Guay said: "As someone who deeply respects the legacy and promise of the Ford brand, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with these clients and the bright minds at GTB to help chart the future of mobility.
"Ford and WPP are at the forefront of the transformation happening in their respective industries, and I feel very fortunate to be able to work with two such forward-looking organisations."
Kim Brink, chief operating officer at GTB, stays in her role and will report to Guay.
Korde has been a senior figure at WPP and presented to shareholders at what would turn out to be Sir Martin Sorrell’s final annual general meeting as chief executive in June 2017.
There was speculation that Korde might join Ford, but a source with knowledge of the situation dismissed the suggestion.