Since 1998, the co-chairman and executive creative director of Team One Advertising was charged with the $275 million national and regional Lexus dealer accounts at the Saatchi & Saatchi unit he helped establish for the Toyota Motor Sales USA unit. Now, after nearly 15 years at the Publicis Groupe shop, he's ready for a new challenge.
He's switching cars-and holding companies-joining WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, as exec VP-executive creative director, overseeing 190 creatives on Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division's estimated $1.3 billion U.S. advertising and regional dealer business. He's also the agency's worldwide creative director of the brand.
"I can give [Ford] what they never dreamed possible," said Mr. Cordner, whose first major test comes later this year when Ford launches its all-new F-150 pickup line.
He's not inclined to rate JWT's recent Ford ads. "It's not about what's been done," he said. "It's about what's in front of us."
Mr. Cordner said that while he plans no staff cuts or restructuring, he said he expects to "drive some energy into the group," by shaping the team's work rather than driving it himself.
Even when he wrote Lexus' longtime "relentless pursuit of excellence" tag on a plane back from his first trip to Japan visiting Toyota, he didn't throw it in the hat until his entire team had submitted their lines. It was one of 10 lines researched with consumers and it came out on top.
Court Crandal, now creative partner at Ground Zero, Marina del Rey, Calif., said Mr. Cordner was the main reason he left Boston in 1990 to work for Team One. "Tom was always about the work. There wasn't a lot of ego or desire to get his name on things," he said.
Mr. Cordner "is a good car guy with good creative vision," said Steve Sturm, VP-Toyota Logistics Services. "He picked good creatives, let them run and come up with good ideas. He fights the fight if he thinks he's right, but he knows how to compromise." Mr. Sturm credited Mr. Cordner with helping to take the Lexus brand "from nowhere to the No. 1 luxury brand."
Mr. Cordner, who declines to discuss his age, first recognized his vocation in the U.S. Air Force in 1963, where, after an aptitude test, he became a graphic illustrator. His first agency job came in 1972, with Solox-Wexton, where he stayed less than a year before joining Rosenfeld, Sirowitz & Lawson (both New York shops are now defunct). In a twist of fate, his first auto work at an agency was on the Southern California Ford dealer account at Dailey & Associates, West Hollywood, Calif., in 1977.
Mr. Cordner was a "cornerstone" for Lexus, its history and its advertising, an anomaly since Toyota typically shifts management teams for a broader experience, said Greg Kitzens, assistant general manager of Toyota's Denver region. "He was one of the few stable forces of the brand," said Mr. Kitzens. "We're going to miss him."
Name: Thomas Cordner
Title: Exec VP-exec creative director, Ford's U.S. and regional dealer accounts, JWT USA
Challenge: Give Ford 'what they never dreamed possible'