Young & Rubicam Inc. Chairman Alex Kroll, 56, last week announced he will join the ranks of the agency chieftains planning to retire at yearend. He will hand over Y&R's top post to longtime understudy Peter Georgescu.
Earlier, McCann-Erickson Worldwide Chairman Robert James, 58, and AC&R Chairman Alvin Chereskin, 66, said they would leave at yearend. And Philip Joanou retired July 31 as chairman-CEO of Dailey & Associates, Los Angeles.
"There was a tremendous surge in the advertising business in the 1960s. These people were part of that and now they're getting close to retirement age," said Paul S. Gumbinner, an advertising headhunter based in New York.
Two other longtime agency fixtures stepped down in October.
Carl Spielvogel, 65, abruptly resigned as Bates Worldwide chairman a week before Mr. Kroll's announcement.
Also, Sam Scali, 60, unexpectedly left his post as Lowe & Partners/SMS deputy chairman this month but remains a consultant.
Leading the crowded path off Madison Avenue earlier this year was Jerry Siano, 59, longtime N W Ayer Chairman-CEO who retired after Korean investor W.Y. Choi and his right-hand man, Richard Humphries, asserted control of the troubled agency and appointed Steve Dworin, 41, as the agency's new chairman-CEO.
"It's a changing of the guard but in each case the management transition has already taken place. These moves are just the stepping down," said O. Burtch Drake, president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
Industry watchers say the incoming generation of managers lacks the marquee value of those now exiting the agencies.
"High-profile leaders are not seen as frequently in the business today and, when one of them retires, they leave a hole," said Abe Jones, managing partner, AdMedia Corporate Advisors. "The business doesn't have as many big personalities as it used to.
"There's more emphasis on team management; clients like the idea of an agency with a number of principals, like Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG. That's more the paradigm for the future than the pyramid with one dominant personality at the top," Mr. Jones said.
It was criticism of Mr. Kroll's overbearing personality that is said to have hastened the executive's decision late last year to pass his CEO mantle to Mr. Georgescu.
Mr. Kroll, a former professional football player, has been regarded as one of the industry's most rigid top managers. His personality pervaded the agency, an attitude Y&R has taken steps to shed this year.
He spent his career at Y&R Inc.-ranked No. 6 worldwide by Advertising Age for 1993-which he joined as a trainee copywriter in 1962. He was named president-chief operating officer of Y&R Inc. in 1982, and added the CEO title three years later.
Who'll be next to go?
J. Walter Thompson Co. Chairman-CEO Burt Manning, 63, was set to turn day-to-day agency management over to JWT President Peter Schweitzer late this year until his hand-picked successor got cold feet at the 11th hour. Now insiders say Mr. Manning's tenure will likely be extended.
Others likely to start leaving next year include Lintas Worldwide Chairman Kenneth Robbins, 59; Hal Riney & Partners Chairman-CEO Hal Riney, 62, and Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide Chairman Ed Wax, 57.
Industry executives say Earle Palmer Brown Chairman Jeb Brown, 47, is pondering selling his Bethesda, Md.-based network but Mr. Brown said the rumor is "totally ridiculous."
Ironically, one executive who doesn't pop up on the retirement watch is Ed Meyer, chairman-CEO of Grey Advertising, who at 67 is one of Madison Avenue's older, most entrenched and indefatigable fixtures.
Christy Fisher contributed to this story.