JWT TAPS LOWE'S JEFFREY AS PRESIDENT OF NY OFFICE: EXEC TO MOVE FROM SAN FRAN. TO FILL POST LEFT VACANT SINCE FALL

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J. Walter Thompson USA tapped Robert Jeffrey as president of its New York office, a post vacant for more than four months.

"We were looking for four things," said JWT Chairman-CEO Chris Jones. "Someone who is very smart; someone who is passionately committed to the creative product; someone who is entrepreneurial and desired to grow a business; and someone with personal integrity."

Mr. Jeffrey, 44, moves from managing director of the San Francisco office of Lowe & Partners/SMS. A well-regarded executive, he was considered a likely successor to Marvin Sloves, 64, chairman of New York-based Lowe, who is expected to retire at the end of the year.

LOWE OFFER REJECTED

Lowe & Partners, a unit of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe Group, made a strong counter-offer, but was ultimately unable to keep Mr. Jeffrey.

At JWT, a division of WPP Group, Mr. Jeffrey succeeds former New York CEO Susan Gianinno, who left after a shake-up last October that followed the June loss of the $40 million Eastman Kodak Co. account.

"Last summer was a tough time for the New York office," said Mr. Jones. "When you have one of those losses, everything is looked at in a different way . . . We decided we had to change management."

Mr. Jones said he believes the agency has stayed on track even without a New York head, getting into new-business pitches and bulking up its executive ranks.

In the past few months, the New York office won a global consolidation of Dell Computer Corp.'s estimated $80 million account and a $20 million direct marketing assignment from Sprint Corp. Currently, it's pitching for business from Merrill Lynch and Heineken USA.

GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES

"There are huge opportunities for growth. The challenge for me is pulling it all together and growing new business," said Mr. Jeffrey. He added that his first plan of action is to "go in and get to know the people and existing clients -- to get to know the lay of the land."

Prior to joining Lowe, Mr. Jeffrey was founder, president and chief strategist at Goldsmith/Jeffrey, New York. That agency was acquired by Lowe & Partners in 1996.

"What really pushed me to do this was all the opportunity there. It's a bigger challenge," Mr. Jeffrey said of his move to JWT. "It was a tough decision because I had done so much at Lowe, and I like the people. I wasn't looking to leave."

According to Lowe insiders, Mr. Jeffrey had decided as of Feb. 27 to reject the JWT offer and remain with Lowe. Executives familiar with the discussions said Mr. Jeffrey was told he would be moved to New York as general manager and would have the opportunity to succeed Mr. Sloves as president. Mr. Garfinkel would then become sole chairman.

Those insiders said that over that weekend, Mr. Jeffrey apparently changed his mind again -- in part because he would not be guaranteed the Lowe presidency -- and opted to accept JWT's offer. Mr. Jeffrey wouldn't discuss specifics of the offer or any counter-offers, but said his decision was made over the last weekend in February.

Contributing: Mercedes Cardona and Pat Sloan.

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