He may have joined the company 44 years ago now, but Publicis’ advertising industry was just about the last one CEO Maurice Lévy had in mind when he was picking a career.
“The reality is, I wanted to be a surgeon,” he confesses to Beet.TV in this video interview. “I just cannot stand blood, so I had to change. I went to learn something else. I became an engineer.”
Lévy joined Publicis as IT director in 1971 – after which, one of his most important feats is said to be putting in place a data security policy that involved backing up all of the company’s data on magnetic tape. According to Wikipedia: “A fire in the company’s office (on the Champs-Elysées) proved the success of his backup and restoration strategy, as the company was back on its feet one week later.”
It sounds as if Lévy could have run that IT department with one hand tied behind his back – pretty soon, his horizons were growing.
“After three months, I was doing all my job in half the day -I have learned to do almost everything in the business,” he says. “All the afternoon, I was with the creative department – thinking about how we can find new ways of creating new solutions etc.”
Amid that culture mix, he claims to have written “the very first algorithm in France for media optimisation”.
Publicis, of course, has changed considerably since Lévy’s early days. Now, the company numbers 75,000 staff around the world, and Lévy reckons: “We are the most advanced in digital and probably the one who will win the future.”
That’s a bold bet- hubristic, even. But Lévy acknowledges he has made mistakes along the way – it’s just that he turns the losses in to wins.
“I have lost clients … I had some difficulties with some acquisitions,” he concedes. “Setbacks are what back you stronger. At each of the hurdles that I had to jump … I get out of this stronger. If I am strong today, it is because I had many.”
One recent slip-up, of course, came when the merger of Publicis with Omnicom, which Lévy architected, collapsed in 2014. He reportedly has hinted that, when he leaves the company, it is a team and not an individual that will replace him.
But the man knows that it is the dark days which can turn the light back on: “When you are riding horses – as soon as you fall down, you have to jump over again and again until you win.”
Lévy was interviewed for Beet.TV by David J. Moore, Chairman of Xaxis and President of WPP Digital. Taping took place in Cannes in June, 2015. This video is part of a series titled the Media Revolutionaries, produced by Beet.TV and sponsored by Xaxis and AOL Please find the series videos here.