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Speculation on IPG top brass as Bell yet to sign contract

LONDON - Intense speculation is surrounding the senior management line-up at troubled Interpublic Group as chief executive David Bell has yet to sign a new contract.

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The Wall Street Journal was reporting this morning that Bell has yet to renew his employment contract, with his current deal set to expire on March 1 2005.

The management uncertainty comes against the backdrop of another bad year for Interpublic, which has seen it lose a number of large accounts including Initiative's loss of Unilever, its oldest and most eminent client in the UK and Europe, and Universal McCann's loss of Nestle.

Adding to its woes, in November Interpublic posted a wider quarterly net loss of $578.4m (£300m), compared with $327.1m for the same period last year.

Bell's current contract one ends on March 1, according to a company statement. Interpublic is in the middle of a turnaround effort and is seeking to pare down debt and right its operations.

Bell has been ceding certain operational tasks to Michael Roth, who joined Interpublic as chairman in July and was a driving force in bringing Steve Blamer, CEO of Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide North America, over to the chief executive role at Interpublic's Foote Cone & Belding. "As a matter of policy, we do not comment on executive contracts," Interpublic said in a statement. "All speculation aside, the fact is the partnership between Mr Bell and Mr Roth is working out well, as expected."

In a June conference call, Bell explained to investors that when he took his role at Interpublic in 2003: "I signalled that I intended to stay for five years, but certainly through the end of the turnaround, and nothing has dissuaded me from that."

Interpublic says that Bell can still serve the company as a consultant if he decides to resign or retire, or if Interpublic does not renew the agreement.

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