We're All Socialists Now: Publicis CEO Cuts 75% of His Pay in "Solidarity" With Workers

Last Updated Mar 17, 2010 5:57 PM EDT

Publicis (PUB) CEO Maurice Levy scored a double PR coup today: the Silver Fox gave up his 2009 bonus "as a gesture of solidarity" with his employees, who have suffered a salary freeze and 2,500 layoffs; and he used the occasion to insult his favorite rival, WPP (WPPGY) CEO Martin Sorrell.

Using the word "solidarity" is a move that will mean more in Europe than America, where it will be taken as winking respect for the labor movement. Levy began the recession in typical French fashion, by promising that no jobs would be lost at his company.

Campaign reports that Levy will give up €2.7 million in compensation, and take only his €900,000 salary -- so this giveback is a genuine act of recessionary barrel-wearing: It's 75 percent of his annual compensation. It's a marked turnaround since the summer of 2009, when Levy only belatedly realized that this recession thing that everyone else was talking about was also going to apply to him.

At the same time, Marketing Week reported that Levy was not going to acquire Interpublic (IPG), even though that's exactly what Sorrell seems to want him to do:
My competitor likes to marry Publicis with Interpublic; maybe it's because he has plenty of time and his business is not keeping him too busy.
It's the latest in a long line of barbs the two have traded over the years. The fight is so old that it has become more of a hobby for both men than a genuine conflict. Levy's humble move on pay is already being compared to Sorrell's sale of £785,000 of stock just to pay his taxes, which Levy will doubtless enjoy.

Here's a breakdown of who lost what among Levy's lieutenants, per Campaign:
  • David Kenny, managing partner of VivaKi, €900,000,
  • Jack Klues, chairman of Publicis Groupe Media, €900,000,
  • Jean-Yves Naouri, evp/group operations €350,000
  • Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi €300,000
Compare those bonuses with last year's, and you can see that only Levy appears to have hit his bonus target. The rest are giving up much less than they earned for 2008's bonuses.

Image by Flickr user World Economic Forum, CC. Related:

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