Bernardin prepares revamp at Burnett

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Leo Burnett USA's new CEO is reorganizing the agency in preparation for longtime top creative Cheryl Berman to relinquish her post.

Tom Bernardin, who took the top job at the Publicis Groupe agency in February, started on this path last week by announcing organizational changes that give more autonomy and accountability to Ms. Berman's lieutenants. The changes are designed to allow the Chicago agency's creatives more responsibility than under a previous, more centralized structure.

Mr. Bernardin, 50, said he had no timetable for naming a successor to Ms. Berman, 51,who retains the title chief creative officer and goes from chairman of Leo Burnett USA to chairman of Leo Burnett North America. Succession "isn't a pressing, urgent issue that needs to happen overnight," Mr. Bernardin said. He added that the creative moves are about "aligning [the department] for the future and future management."

A clearer delineation of responsibilities between Ms. Berman and No. 2 creative Mark Tutssel was geared to eliminate overlap that had generated friction between them. Ms. Berman will be responsible for Walt Disney Co., Hallmark Cards and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Tampax and Secret brands. Mr. Tutssel-who becomes vice chairman-regional creative director of North America from vice chairman-deputy chief creative officer for Leo Burnett USA-will lead the Morgan Stanley, Heinz, Kellogg Co., Beck's beer and P&G Noxema teams. Ms. Berman and Mr. Tutssel will share McDonald's Corp., with Ms. Berman as the primary leader.

Mr. Bernardin said moving forward he wants Ms. Berman to play a broader role in helping set strategy and cultivating clients. Ms. Berman welcomes the opportunity."The more we can work together, the more we can get done."

Burnett insiders and alumni were underwhelmed by the changes, expecting a more dramatic shake-up in a creative department that had been riven by factionalism. Some had predicted that Ms. Berman would be sidelined.

Mr. Bernardin acknowledged that the moves were "subtle." But he said there's no reason for a drastic shift, arguing that Burnett-which in recent years has weathered the Publicis acquisition, account losses and executive departures-doesn't need more turmoil.

measured fashion

Mr. Bernardin, a runner, has a track record for making changes in a measured fashion. While leading the New York office of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Bozell Worldwide (now part of Interpublic's Lowe) in the late 1990s, he oversaw a leadership shift in the creative department headed by Jay Schulberg, who held the title of chief creative officer.

In 1998 Mr. Bernardin brought in Brent Bouchez to take New York responsibilities while Mr. Schulberg retained worldwide duties. Mr. Schulberg retired at the end of 1999.

A former boss credits Mr. Bernardin's political skills in making changes. "He's a very persuasive guy," said Leo-Arthur Kelmenson, a senior executive at Interpublic who was longtime chairman of Bozell. "He's always been very good at getting things done his way."

Warren Batts, an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, said it makes sense for a new CEO to make gradual changes when entering a corporate culture as entrenched as Burnett's. The challenge is following through; the risk is "being coopted by the organization and not changing," he said. "You have to be pretty firm."

contributing: jean halliday

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