When a CEO stubs his toes, his general counsel forbids him from saying "ouch."
It would be pointless, therefore, to gather the CEOS of Publicis and Omnicom to discuss their broken engagement, or their chief competitor at WPP. Why go through the nuisance of getting them in the same room if they can’t be trusted to say what they are really thinking? So I offer an exclusive interview with John Wren and Maurice Levy -- plus one special-guest knight -- conducted without, technically, “speaking to them.” Still, I guarantee more truth than you’d have gotten had they actually, you know, participated. In addition, inventing the answers allowed me to be far more direct with the questioning.
MEDIAPOST: So you failed to pull this off. What a surprise.
WREN: Was there a question?
MEDIAPOST: Sorry. Were you surprised that you were unable to surmount all the obstacles that were obvious to everyone but you two empire builders for a year?
WREN: This was a deal struck in good faith, and yes, there were obstacles. We believe we could have, as you say, surmounted them. But the process was more protracted and difficult than we had anticipated and was beginning to interfere in our ongoing businesses. Plus, I hate Maurice’s guts. I just hate him.
LEVY: I, as well, hate John. John was trying to turn Publicis into a wholly owned subsidiary of Omniwren. Remember when your President Reagan was shot, and that scary Alexander Haig announced, “I am control here in the White House.” It was like that.
WREN: If certain parties had been a little more forthcoming about not being able to deliver the tax concessions in their home countries we’d been told were “pas de probleme” and maybe if certain French managers weren’t such crybabies about ceding responsibility to their new partners, there would have been smoother sailing.
MEDIAPOST: I’ll bet your clients think you two were so fixated on being masters of the universe that you neglected their businesses for a year.
LEVY: Does this man not know the difference between a question and a cheap, baseless accusation?
MEDIAPOST: My apologies again. I’ll bet your clients think you two were so fixated on being masters of the universe that you neglected their businesses for a year -- right?
LEVY and WREN: Right.
SIR MARTIN SORRELL: Ask them why they did it. Ask them why they did it. They wanted to be bigger than WPP, that’s why. Ask them how it has worked out.
MEDIAPOST: Shut up, Martin. I can handle this. Mr. Levy, you were quoted about the accumulation of troubles, saying, “it was not China, or tax concerns in the UK and Netherlands taken individually.” Do you realize how much you sound like Oscar Madison talking to Felix Unger? “It’s the cooking, cleaning and crying. It’s the moose calls that open your ears at two o’clock in the morning.”
LEVY: If we are the Odd Couple, I assure you it is not I who am Oscar Madison. My formerly betrothed can eat dinner from the luncheon left on his shirt.
WREN: (clearing throat) Microsoft.
LEVY: (coughing) Vodaphone.
MEDIAPOST: Well, since you brought it up, while you two visionaries were squabbling over assets, between you, you lost $1.5 billion in business in April alone… not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars you have squandered trying to effect the aborted merger. What do your shareholders think about your stewardship?
SIR MARTIN: Ask them about Aesop. The dog, the chop and the pond. It’s a fable about greed.
MEDIAPOST: If you don’t stop interrupting, I’m going to have to ask you to…. Oh my God, are you….aroused?
SIR MARTIN: Suffice to say I predicted this outcome, I benefit from this outcome and I am excited by this outcome.
LEVY: This gnome is repulsive.
MEDIAPOST: One final thing. Mr. Levy, you mentioned in your earnings call that Publicis is undergoing some “drift” in its business model. What did you mean?
LEVY: On that point perhaps I misspoke.
WREN: You can say that again. What business model?