The Player: Bours takes the long way to Hill Holliday in New York

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Jeroen Bours has come a long way from the Tel Aviv ad and design shop where his office was a kitchen, daily sustenance was one falafel sandwich, and he had to plead with clients to settle up before they went off to fight in the skirmishes of the 1980s.

The new lead creative at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, New York, he still works six days per week, but this time he operates out of SoHo, manages 45 people and aims to boost the midsized agency's entrepreneurial sensibilities.

He was 23 when he emigrated to Israel in 1981. Mr. Bours wanted to see the continued building of the country and planned to make the land of his forefathers his home. He followed his brother's steps to a kibbutz, where he spent three months on irrigation detail. Then he made his way to Tel Aviv where he worked at a tiny agency for 18 months, designing and drawing ads and logos for small clients.

"The situation was tough with the Lebanon conflict, and you used to beg your clients before they went back into the army to pay their bills or otherwise you'd not get a salary," he said.

Needing an apartment, Mr. Bours (whose first name is pronounced ye-ROON) took as his roommate Robin, a brunette from New York whom he'd met in a conversational Hebrew class for immigrants. They were eventually engaged, and he followed her to the U.S., where they married and now have two teenage boys.

The multilingual Mr. Bours-he speaks German, English, Dutch and Hebrew-found his first U.S. agency job by accident. Armed with a long list of prospective employers, he forgot to cross off one that had rejected him and called it again. It was Warren/Kramer, an ad agency specializing in travel that included Marriott International on its client list.

"It was 1985, and there were almost no foreigners in advertising. The woman [who answered the phone] later told me she didn't want to interview me because I had a foreign accent," said Mr. Bours, a native of Holland.

big names

Since then, Mr. Bours, 44, has worked at some of the biggest names around Madison Avenue: DDB Worldwide, McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and Ammirati Puris Lintas. At McCann, he and Joyce King Thomas came up with the list concept for MasterCard International's "Priceless" campaign, and he was part of the team that introduced Lucent Technologies. At Ogilvy, where he worked for almost four years prior to Hill Holliday, he helped launch mLife for AT&T Wireless, and Open for American Express Co.'s Small Business unit.

"He's an amazing talent. ... Jeroen understands about being on a team," said Brian Carty, president of Hill Holliday, New York.

Mr. Bours joined Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill Holliday in March as executive creative director.

"The reason I came here is to build things up," he said. "Brian Carty and I are being given open reign to do what we think is best. It's a humbling experience-now it's up to us."

Fast Facts

Name: Jeroen Bours

Age: 44

Now: Executive creative director

Challenge: To build Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos' entrepreneurial instincts.

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