New York — Ogilvy worldwide CEO John Seifert said Tuesday he plans to leave the company in 2021, capping his four decade career with the firm.

In a memo, Seifert, who has been worldwide CEO for the past five years, said his departure next year is part of a succession plan that he and WPP chief executive Mark Read have been working on since Read assumed the post in 2018.

“Mark and I have each embarked on ambitious journeys of business and brand transformation for the companies we lead, and nothing is more important to both of us than recruiting and developing top talent,” Seifert wrote.

“Earlier this year, Mark and I agreed that we should begin the process of searching for my eventual successor, knowing that this process takes time and thoughtful engagement with potential candidates internally and externally,” the memo said.

“In a moment like this, I am more committed than ever to our people, our clients, and the Ogilvy brand. I will continue to lead Ogilvy with all my strength until a successor is appointed and a leadership transition is completed sometime in 2021.”

Seifert’s tenure as CEO has been marked by a major transformation of the company, which started in early 2017 with the restructuring of Ogilvy around a single brand. Bringing the various entities, including Ogilvy PR, into one consolidated business was designed to simplify operations under one P&L.

The plan initially raised concerns that it would lead to the demise of Ogilvy’s PR offering. Early 2019 ushered in another wave of changes that started with the departure of Stuart Smith, who led the PR and influence offering. At that time Seifert stepped into Smith’s role, with plans to build a new global leadership team for the public relations and influence capability. However, it has since transpired that the global leadership role for Ogilvy's PR and influence unit will not be filled. 

Last July, however, Seifert came under fire for defending Ogilvy’s work with US Customs and Border Protection, the organization that was accused of treating immigrants inhumanely, after employees called for the firm to drop the client for ethical reasons.

WPP’s PR firms, which include BCW, H+K Strategies and others, have also underperformed financially recently, with revenue down 1% in 2019.

Seifert held a number of roles during his long career with Ogilvy, serving as CEO of then-named Ogilvy & Mather before taking over as CEO.

Seifert wrote: “It’s been an extraordinary privilege to serve Ogilvy since joining the company as a summer intern in 1979. I love this company with all my heart and will be forever supportive of its success.”