In an industry filled with flashy personalities, John Wren stands apart for his low profile. He is the quiet man of adland.
The chief executive of Omnicom has long operated behind the scenes, while a fierce and very public rivalry raged between Maurice Lévy of Publicis and Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP. Mr Wren, meanwhile, took the philosophy that his group’s advertising agencies – rather than their umbrella holding company – should dominate the spotlight.
Raised in Brooklyn, Mr Wren started his business career at accounting firm Arthur Andersen in 1974. He entered the advertising business a decade later, joining the old Needham Harper agency.
Mr Wren, 60, was part of the original team in 1986 who created Omnicom through the merger of New York agencies Needham, BBDO and DDB. The group was formed as a defensive play against Saatchi & Saatchi, the London ad group where Sir Martin was an executive, which was hunting for potential acquisitions on Madison Avenue, America’s advertising capital.
Mr Wren took over as chief executive in 1997 and has steadily increased the company’s global and digital footprint into the second largest ad holding company by sales.
Mr Wren and Mr Levy will serve as co-chief executives of the combined Publicis-Omnicom group for 30 months. Mr Lévy will then become chairman and Mr Wren, CEO.
Industry insiders said there is a “collegial feeling” between Mr Wren and Mr Lévy, but also described the duo as polar opposites, not only in personality but also in their approach to business.
Mr Wren has shied away from major digital acquisitions after the dotcom boom, in stark contrast to Mr Lévy who has made bold bets to get ahead. “How would they agree on future strategy?” an industry source asked.
As his overseas rivals contended with criticism over their pay, Mr Wren has escaped controversy. In 2012, Mr Wren’s total pay package was $14.8m, according to the company’s proxy statement.
“I have to say from my side, Maurice is the only person in the industry that I could agree and do this with,” Mr Wren told the FT on Sunday.
Mr Levy added: “John is also the only one I could agree to do the deal with.”
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