France’s top ad man on growth, creativity and the French economy

Maurice Levy claims the President won't help the economy, but unlike Sir Martin Sorrell he has no plans to leave home

Gideon Spanier
Tuesday 26 June 2012 19:06

France's top advertising boss, Maurice Levy of Publicis Groupe, has given his strongest warning yet that President François Hollande's new socialist government is damaging business.

He also took a thinly veiled swipe at Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of British, but Dublin-based rival WPP, by ruling out the idea of moving his company's tax base overseas because it would be "betraying my country".

Mr Levy told The Independent on Sunday that the Hollande Government's economic plans spelled disaster and claimed the new premier would have to revise his plans to hike taxes.

"The measures they are proposing are not good. Not good for business, not good for France, not good for creating jobs," declared the Publicis Groupe chairman and chief executive, whose company owns top UK ad agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett and Starcom MediaVest.

There are mounting fears in French corporate circles that President Hollande's move to raise the top rate of personal tax to 75 per cent and impose a 3 per cent tax on dividends will drive talent away to other countries, including Britain.

"They will have to revisit their proposal," insisted Mr Levy, who was speaking at the annual Cannes Lions advertising festival, which ended last night. "If they want to create jobs, they have to make sure we have the right options."

The Publicis boss, one of his country's most senior business leaders, said he was already finding it harder to persuade foreigners to work in France as they "consider it is not the right time to come".

But Mr Levy will not consider moving his company's base to a lower tax domicile such as Ireland and hit out at other firms that made such move.

"I don't believe it is the right thing to do," declared Mr Levy, who last year urged the rich to pay more personal tax because of the economic crisis. "It's a moral standing. I will not feel good morally if I am doing it for tax reasons. I would feel I was betraying my country. If I don't like tax, even if I don't like some decisions, I don't believe it would be right to leave the country for tax reasons."

Sir Martin's WPP quit London for Dublin in 2008 and although the FTSE 100 group has said it intends to return to Britain, it has yet to do so.

Mr Levy declined to comment on Sir Martin's £13m pay package, which was rejected by 60 per cent of WPP shareholders last week.

The Publicis boss has come under fire, notably from Mr Hollande, over his own pay because earlier this year he received a long-term bonus worth ¤16m (£13m), which vested after nine years.

Mr Levy insisted his pay was fair because Publicis has out-performed its rivals and his package was 40 per cent lower than the average of the bosses of WPP, Omnicom and Interpublic. "Not only I am worth it, I've earned it," he said.

However, he pointed out that he voluntarily gave up his ¤900,000 base salary last year and will only receive performance-related pay in future. His decision ensured that Publicis shareholders approved his pay deal.

In contrast, WPP investors rejected a plan to hike Sir Martin's base pay by 30 per cent to £1.3m and his potential bonus to 500 per cent of his salary.

Mr Levy flew into Cannes on Friday from the Middle East after buying two advertising agencies in Israel and the Palestinian Auth ority and announced plans for them to collaborate.

The Publicis boss said he felt it was both a duty to encourage such a "rapprochement".

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