"He listens," said former superior James Patterson, past CEO of WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, North America, and now a best-selling fiction author. "And he's able to interact equally well with clients, colleagues and vendors, which is the mark of all good account people."
Mr. Steele, 51, became trade-press fodder this summer as rumors swirled that he-the account executive for Wendy's International, a $300 million account at Cordiant Communication's Bates Worldwide, New York-and the marketer were both looking for a new home.
In mid-August, Wendy's did move its business to Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, New York. Two months later, Mr. Steele followed. In his new job, as exec VP of McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, Mr. Steele oversees Wendy's. In addition, he'll work with McCann's North American leaders to build on the agency's retail expertise. Current clients include Kohl's and Lowe's Cos.
The immediate goal, Mr. Steele said, is "to bring some of the consistent good thinking on Wendy's, which we have a lot of knowledge about, and to integrate it with McCann's resources and culture."
Helping on the former are a number of other ex-Bates employees who have also joined McCann, including Paul Basile and Jim McKennan, longtime creative directors on Wendy's at Bates, as well as Associate Director-National Broadcast Kara Lazarus. Former Bates employees in Ohio, Nick Fletcher and Garry Bergman, have also switched shops; they join two dozen McCann employees on the account. Certainly, Mr. Steele has a resource for learning about the agency's operations in Jim Heekin, chairman-CEO, McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, because of a friendship begun when both men worked at J. Walter Thompson, New York, in the 1980s.
`all about the work'
But more than anything else, say those who know him well, to really make his move-and his client's-successful, Mr. Steele will roll up his sleeves and dig in. Jerry Gottlieb, now a principal at Manhattan shop McCaffery Ratner Gottlieb & Lane, was Mr. Steele's boss at JWT, New York, said: "Gary is all about the work and the people involved in the work."
Bob Norsworthy, exec VP-diversified agency services, a division of Omnicom, who hired Mr. Steele to work on the West Coast Ford Motor Co. dealer groups business at JWT, Los Angeles, in 1974, agrees. "Gary is diligent; he wants to learn. There were many Saturdays when Gary worked with car salesmen and parts guys to learn about the business. When he moved to the Burger King account, he went to Burger College. He is the hardest worker I've ever known."
Name: Gary Steele
Now: Exec VP, McCann-Erickson WorldGroup
Challenge: Continue momentum on Wendy's; build on McCann's retail expertise