Cordiant, the advertising holding company, ended a six-month search for a new chief executive yesterday, appointing former US food executive Bob Seelert to the job, which pays $800,000 (pounds 503,000) a year .
If he exceeds performance targets, Mr Seelert, 52, could earn another $640,000 a year in bonuses and receive stock options worth up to $3.2m over three years.
The announcement drew puzzled reactions from competing ad agency executives, who questioned Mr Seelert's credentials for the top operating job at ailing Cordiant, formerly Saatchi & Saatchi.
Mr Seelert dismissed criticism that he had no creative experience, saying that the function of the holding company was "to provide leadership".
He said: "The creative people should all be in the agencies, where the work is being done". The holding company should provide financial planning, backroom operations and strategic direction.
Mr Seelert spent 23 years with General Foods, now part of the Philip Morris food and tobacco empire, where he rose to become president of World Wide Coffee and International Foods.
He directed $2bn worth of advertising at General Foods, working with five agencies on brands ranging from Maxwell House coffee to Birds Eye. "I know what clients want from agencies," Mr Seelert said.
In 1989 he left to head Topco Associates, a supplier of own-brand goods to regional food chains, and then spent three years at Kayser-Roth, a clothing concern, which he managed to turn around.
Most recently, he led a team of investors that bid, unsuccessfully, for Tetley's Tea, sold to Allied Domecq for pounds 190m last month.
Charlie Scott, acting chairman of Cordiant and outgoing chief executive, said yesterday that Mr Seelert, who is to divide his time between London and New York, "brings broad experience of marketing and brand advertising, not only in the States but from a wider, multinational management perspective".
Launching the search for a new senior executive, Mr Scott, who is to become full-time chairman, hinted early this year that the company needed someone with experience of the US market, where Cordiant does 40 per cent of its business. He and headhunters Spencer Stuart were also looking for a candidate who would reassure clients that Cordiant could survive the departure of Maurice and Charles Saatchi, the founders.
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