Coincidence or not, a plethora of recently hired top marketing and advertising executives are making big career moves this year at the age of 43.
Headhunters say it's no coincidence.
According to recruiters, a thaw has begun at companies that put the chill on hiring in the late 1980s amid megamergers and downsizings. And fortysomethings are the hottest new prospects for companies seeking new talent.
Also fueling the trend: restlessness among people in their early 40s who've been frustrated in their career ambitions since an economic slowdown began in the late '80s.
Now that opportunities are opening up again, fortysomethings are hungrier than ever for plum jobs in growth areas. The dark side of the trend, some say, is that downsizing companies want youthful, energetic executives to do the work of two or three individuals.
"It's happening in telecommunications, retail, banking and even manufacturing-there's a resurgence right now in hiring fortysomethings for key marketing roles," said Jan Dinerstein, president of J.D. Ross International, a New York recruiter specializing in marketing executives.
The reason: "People in that age group have enough real-world experience, plus a particular mix of youthfulness, extreme energy, and a willingness to embrace new ideas and technologies that is crucial to companies right now," Ms. Dinerstein said.
A scan of new marketing and advertising job moves by executives reported in Advertising Age revealed numerous 43-year-olds landing pivotal positions this year.
Among the 43-year-olds on the move:
Three marketing executives recently hired by AT&T, including Daniel L. Clark, an RJR Nabisco VP, and Revlon Professional North America President Beth Bronner, both as VP for long-distance consumer communications services, and American Express Co. Exec VP-Marketing and Advertising Debra E. Isenberg, director of loyalty marketing.
Robert Iger in September was named president-chief operating officer of Capital Cities/ABC, from president of the ABC Television Network Group.
Sara Levinson left her post as president-business director at MTV: Music Television earlier this year to become president of NFL Properties. Michael Kassan, a lawyer and entrepreneur, this summer won the role of chief operating officer for Los Angeles-based Western International Media.
Sharon Studer in August landed the post of VP-new ventures, a new title at Knight-Ridder, leaving a job as partner at KPMG Peat Marwick, London.
Donald R. Knauss was named senior VP-marketing, Coca-Cola Foods, from VP-general manager at Frito-Lay Direct.
William Howe left a marketing post at Pillsbury Co. to become VP-marketing at Philadelphia-based Bell Atlantic Corp. 18 months ago.
Jeff Billig earlier this year sprang away from his senior VP-associate director job at Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston, to launch his own agency, Billig Advertising.
Corporate recruiters say marketing companies want younger managers closer to youth than midlife in order to reflect more youthful ideas and fast-changing cultures, inside and outside the company.
"Companies want people who have demonstrated in their work, not necessarily on their resumes, that they're really innovative and capable of experimentation, breaking the mold," said Susan Friedman, president of a recruiting company that specializes in placing creatives in agencies.
That's a change from the early '90s, when many companies leaned on older, more seasoned veterans to weather the recession.
"Five years ago, more companies were putting fiftysomethings in charge of departments, because corporate fear and conservatism set in, and they wanted to play it safe. That's changing now," said a prominent Manhattan marketing headhunter.
Although America's movement toward efficiency and downsizing has indeed forced some job consolidation, and therefore heavier burdens on those winning high-profile management jobs, younger executives seem eager to fill these roles.
"People in their young 40s are computer-friendly, interested in the information superhighway and willing to explore new channels," Ms. Dinerstein said. "They came out of school in the late 1970s, when the world was their oyster, and although they may have suffered from declining opportunities in recent years, they're more ambitious than ever."
Sometimes, however, the mid-40s itch for a career change arrives before opportunity knocks. That was the case for Jeffrey Katzenberg, 44, who was forced to abruptly depart his post as chairman of Walt Disney Studios earlier this year when his ambitions exceeded opportunities there.
For two months Mr. Katzenberg's fate was unknown. Then he suddenly landed as a principal in a hot new start-up entertainment venture with star director Steven Spielberg and music mogul David Geffen, where he will oversee production of live action and animated films.
Jeff Goodby at 43 faces a major career decision as his Omnicom Group contract is at a renegotiation point. And Mr. Goodby, one of the founders of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, has been making noises that change might lie ahead. So he must decide whether to continue heading, along with Rich Silverstein, one of the nation's hottest and fastest growing agencies.
But Mr. Goodby, a talented director and artist, might also be looking for a change of pace.
When Mr. Billig felt that way, he decided to leave a major agency and go off on his own.
"All of a sudden, I realized that I had reached the point where I trusted my own vision and judgments, and so did other people," he said. "It was the best decision I ever made."
Alice Z. Cuneo contributed to this story.