Eskandarian's next big move

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Ed Eskandarian is the last person you'd expect to run Havas Advertising's second global network, Campus. The chairman-CEO of Arnold Communications has no international experience, is an engineer by schooling and won't live in New York because of the traffic.

But Mr. Eskandarian today takes over as chairman-CEO of Campus' eight entrepreneurial shops in Brazil, Europe and North America. He is charged with building a creatively based second network as Havas tries to challenge holding companies twice its size. This would be Mr. Eskandarian's third turn at transforming a midsize organization into an advertising force.

Under his leadership, Arnold Advertising rocketed from the country's No. 151 agency in 1990 to No. 24 last year and increased billings thirteenfold. He helped Humphrey Browning MacDougall grow from a $6 million shop to one with $400 million in billings. Now it's time for the French.

"He really built the Boston network and gets very little credit for it," said Steve Conroy, a public relations consultant who has worked for several Boston agencies, including a brief stint at Arnold last year.

Campus has gross income of $235.2 million according to Advertising Age estimates. Bringing Arnold into the fold, which has $143.3 million in gross income, will elevate Campus' worldwide gross income to about $378.5 million. Mr. Eskandarian estimated Campus' billings for 2001 will be $1.9 billion.

SINCE 1989

When Mr. Eskandarian bought Arnold at the end of 1989, it had 60 staffers and billings of $40 million; its biggest clients were Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Fleet Bank of Boston and the Boston-area McDonald's Corp. franchisee co-op. Now its roster includes Volkswagen of America, the anti-smoking American Legacy Foundation, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Exxon Mobil Corp., and annual growth runs about 40%. Arnold's revenue last year was $156 million.

The yet-to-be-christened Arnold-Campus entity will be divided into two units -- one for the U.S. and another for the rest of the world -- with Mr. Eskandarian as chairman-CEO. Details such as other top executives and an exact organizational structure should be set by the middle of next month, he said.

Mr. Eskandarian said the network wants to buy another seven to 12 shops, giving it coverage in 85% of major global markets. The primary U.S. focus is New York.

Internationally, the emphasis continues to be on Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Japan and South Korea. Canada had been a top priority until two weeks ago when Havas bought Vickers & Benson, Canada's largest independent shop.

The Arnold-Campus deal will give Arnold the global reach it has wanted since before selling itself to Snyder Communications in March 1998. But those dreams -- as well as Snyder's stock price and Mr. Eskandarian's associated fortunes -- were dashed as investors lost interest when earnings faltered. Snyder Chairman-CEO Dan Snyder then concentrated on his newest purchase, the NFL's Washington Redskins.

STILL IN HIS HANDS

Even after the sale to Snyder, Mr. Eskandarian runs the agency that he built into $956.1 million in billings last year, according to Advertising Age figures.

And he runs it like a family, according to employees, relatives and others in the Boston ad community. At the holidays, Nancy, his wife of 35 years, offers gift-wrapping classes, and there's a party for employees' children. His eldest daughter runs the agency's work-life balance program; his son is a copywriter; and another daughter works part-time in human resources while she working on her MBA at Boston University.

Mr. Eskandarian, 62, is the youngest son of Armenian immigrants. His father was a Bucks County, Pa., dry cleaner and his mother a housewife. He studied engineering at Villanova University and started collecting paychecks for designing heat shields for the space shuttle in the 1960s. He figured that when he finished Harvard Business School, he'd go into technical marketing at a TRW or a General Electric Co. Instead he landed his first marketing job at New York's Compton Advertising, trying to sell Duncan Heinz pie mixes, which were discontinued after testing.

TENUOUS TIME

At the time, agency employment was tenuous and people were hired and fired corresponding to when accounts were won and lost. He said that would not be the case if or when he got his own shop.

"No industry should be like that. You should be able to run your business as a business," he said.

Mr. Eskandarian said he believes that philosophy is present in Arnold's Campus cousins. "It exists at most agencies [in the network] already," he said. "I like our partners. We have a consensus. It's an international network of like minds. Ninety percent of our partners, we could move right in here, and they'd feel at home."

Mr. Eskandarian has come a long way since 1965 when he tried to sell pie mix for Compton. In 1971, he moved to Boston to become senior VP at Humphrey Browning, moved up to the presidency and bought out his partners by the early 1980s. Humphrey Browing merged in 1984 with Creamer, New York, and was sold two years later to London's WCRS (now part of Campus). He left the agency in 1989 when his contract expired, WCRS having ignored his admonitions not to merge HBM/Creamer with the disparate Della Femina, McNamee -- an entity that eventually blew itself apart. He bought Arnold & Co. later that year with proceeds from the sale to WCRS and took over in early 1990.

"I was too young to retire [when I left Creamer] and wanted to see if I could do it again," he said. "It was like, `Let's try to create another national agency here in Boston and try to do it better than before.' "

FOUR MORE AGENCIES

Within two years of buying Arnold, Mr. Eskandarian had purchased four more agencies and bulked up offerings to include public relations, direct marketing and design. He said another factor was hiring good people, including Managing Partner-Chief Marketing Officer Fran Kelly, Managing Partner-Chief Creative Officer Ron Lawner and Exec VP-Director of Media John Gaffney, who have been with Mr. Eskandarian at least since the early days of Arnold.

Mr. Eskandarian would not disclose who he has selected to take over as Arnold's president, a spot that has been unfilled, as he moves to Arnold-Campus. But bets are on Mr. Kelly, a fellow Harvard Business School alumnus and a friend and colleague of Mr. Eskandarian's since 1983. Mr. Kelly also will play a significant leadership and creative role. An announcement is expected next month.

Mr. Kelly said his boss' exceptional abilities at acquisitions will benefit Campus.

"Ed's always been somebody who could build up things piece by piece," he said. "When we've made acquisitions, we've not just bought volume. It's good for the company that gets bought, and it's good for Arnold. He's able to buy the right things and knit them into the fabric of the company, so it's one global brand, not just a string of acquisitions."

LITTLE INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE

Mr. Eskandarian is not concerned his only international experience has been business trips and vacation jaunts to Canada, Mexico and western Europe. None of his colleagues is bothered either. "An ad agency is an ad agency is an ad agency whether it's in Boston or Barcelona. Ed certainly is experienced with that. He's great at making deals. He's good at finance. Ad agencies live and die by their financial profitability," Mr. Lawner said.

It's just about impossible to find anyone to speak ill of the gracious, homespun Mr. Eskandarian, who wears Brooks Bros. suits; maintains homes in Boston, Cape Cod and high-brow Jupiter Hills, Fla.; and appoints his office with leather chairs and couches, Oriental carpets, pictures of his family and a big stuffed gorilla. He appears he'd be just as comfortable sitting in the stands at Boston's Fenway Park -- eating a hot dog and rooting for the Red Sox -- as sitting in the Arnold sky box.

"He's a real class act, a unique combination. He can talk to a guy on the street and a CEO with equal credibility. He's always kind of been on a higher plane. He just sees things out there. He sees more than most people out there, where to go, how things fit together," said Fred Bertino, a partner with Square One, Boston, but formerly president-chief creative officer at cross-town rival Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos and a former colleague of Mr. Eskandarian's.

Contributing: Laurel Wentz.

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