AYER APPEARS PLACID AFTER DWORIN'S EXIT;BUT QUINLAN MAY NOT HAVE LOCK ON HELM YET

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Some call it hubris, others frustration, but regardless of the motive it seems Steve Dworin's sudden departure as chairman-CEO of N.W. Ayer & Partners hasn't rocked the boat with clients or dramatically shifted the future direction of the agency.

"I don't think that one guy's leaving the agency makes or breaks the agency," said Richard Humphreys, president of Adcom, the holding company that owns New York-based Ayer. "We're sorry Steve chose to leave, but Ayer has changed over the year as we had planned. He was the implementor of the strategy we had discussed, but he wasn't the architect."

Clients such as AT&T seconded this sentiment.

"Steve was a great guy who made some positive changes, but our relationship with Ayer goes back a long way and it's stronger than one individual," said Dick Martin, VP-corporate advertising at AT&T.

Mr. Humphreys, who flew in from London last week to join new CEO Mary Lou Quinlan and Managing Partner Martyn Straw in an all-day meeting with each agency department, said Ms. Quinlan will continue to forge ahead on what was built in the past year.

"Steve was the symbol of a more current, lively agency, and that will continue with this team," Mr. Humphreys said, referring to Ms. Quinlan and Mr. Straw. A new creative director will complete the triumvirate, said Mr. Humphreys and Ms. Quinlan, a strategy that was put in place during Mr. Dworin's tenure.

Pat Cunningham, vice chairman-chief creative officer, will likely remain in an advisory role.

What will come of Ayer's international capability, however, is still in question. Ayer lacks an international network for its blue-chip multinational clients such as AT&T, Procter & Gamble Co. and DeBeers Consolidated Mines.

Mr. Humphreys said there's nothing imminent but that an affiliation, rather than an acquisition, may be an option.

Ms. Quinlan is meeting with all clients personally and will likely take the supervisory reins on the P&G business, which Mr. Dworin was closely tied to. She has also hired Madeline Lewis-new-business head at Warwick Baker & Fiore, and a former colleague from Ms. Quinlan's days at DDB Needham Worldwide-to act as a "strong right arm" on some of the client business, including KitchenAid, Pep Boys and new business.

Ayer insiders said although Ms. Quinlan became a successor by default, she's a seasoned manager and works well with clients. It was her relationship with Avon Products that brought in that client, one of the few important recent new-business wins at Ayer.

Mr. Dworin, the brash and aggressive leader, was a good foil to her cheerleader, maternal approach, said Ayer insiders. Those who have worked with Ms. Quinlan, both on the agency and client sides, are also quick to add that she has an iron fist in a velvet glove approach. It was Ms. Quinlan who did the firings and is said to have pushed hard to move the "old guard" out of the agency, Ayer executives said.

Still others warn that Mr. Humphreys and W.Y. Choi, the South Korean media mogul who owns 99% of Adcom, will be watching her closely. As Ayer president, Ms. Quinlan proved herself as a strong No. 2 but has never run an agency. Although Mr. Humphreys denied it, some question whether the reason Ms. Quinlan didn't get the chairman's title was to leave some room for an outsider to take over should Ms. Quinlan fail to pass muster as Ayer's head.

Meanwhile, there don't seem to be a lot of malcontents over Mr. Dworin's departure (AA, May 29). Some Ayer executives found Mr. Dworin's strategy of creating a "downtown boutique" incongruous, considering Ayer's sophisticated blue-chip clients.

Many, including Mr. Humphreys, are still puzzled by Mr. Dworin's abrupt departure. "I'm still glad I hired him," Mr. Humphreys said. "He improved the agency by flattening the corporate pyramid and breathing more life into servicing clients."

Indeed, Mr. Dworin was generally liked by clients. But Ayer observers said it was ultimately Mr. Dworin's failure to bring in new business that got under his skin. One Ayer executive said Mr. Dworin's ego was largely hinged on his rainmaker status. When Mr. Dworin was refused equity for himself and agency management, he took it as a personal rebuff, Ayer sources said.

Ms. Quinlan said the senior executive team is happy with the current incentive structure, based on exceeding profit goals and getting equity if the agency is sold or acquired. "Sure we discussed having equity and that would have been nice, but it didn't even get very far," she said.

Ms. Quinlan told minions last week: "Dworin was one person, but we have 499 of you plus our clients, and they're very happy with the work we're doing."

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