So said Jerry Cronin, a longtime veteran of Wieden & Kennedy who now belongs to a small but growing club: top Wieden creatives who have moved on to other agencies.
For a place that didn't seem to lose people, Wieden has lately begun to experience the kind of turnover that's been more the norm at an agency like Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which has spawned more spin-offs than "Cheers."
In addition to Larry Frey of 180 in Amsterdam and Mr. Cronin, who formed Bayless/Cronin, Atlanta, with partner Tim Bayless last summer, the ex-Wieden cadre includes Jamie Barrett, who joined Fallon McElligott, New York, in January as creative director; and Vince Engel, who left in January to take the creative director's post at Lowe & Partners/SMS, San Francisco.
At Lowe, Mr. Engel's business-side partner is Buzz Sawyer, who was managing director of Wieden's Amsterdam office until this summer.
FOR SOME, TIME TO GO
What's behind this exodus of talent from Wieden? And, what can be expected of these top CDs now that they're running their own creative departments?
For some, it was simply time to go.
"There are only so many people who can be a partner or have a say in running the business," said Mr. Cronin, who spent 11 years at Wieden. "So you have to move on."
Other factors played a part, too, chief among them the changing nature of the agency as it continued to grow and the quality of its client relationships evolved.
The primary Wieden influence these CDs will bring to their new posts will most likely be exhibited in their management styles, most have indicated.
"The one thing I've definitely ripped off from Dan are the priorities," said Mr. Engel, who listed them this way: "The work, the client and yourself."
Mr. Barrett spent five years at Fallon's Minneapolis office before his seven years at Wieden.
At Wieden, he said, the agency allowed creatives freedom to present risky work. "They were experimental not just in how the work was presented, but how it was done," he added, "in terms of things like the choice of director or the choice of music. They definitely taught me that there's tremendous value in letting other talented people have an impact on your work."
Mr. Cronin said he hopes to emulate at Bayless/Cronin the degree of openness that existed at Wieden years ago. A good creative department "should be a place where people can be as honest as they want, and others can accept that. That was the most extraordinary thing about Wieden & Kennedy. It was a place where nothing was filtered."
AN AGENCY IS AN AGENCY
Yet for all the positive aspects of their years at Wieden, many creatives noted that it was still an ad agency, and most of those have their own brand of internal conflicts.
A big part of that agency's culture had two sides to it. While a strong sense of family existed, many former staffers said, it was accompanied by a feeling of betrayal on the part of the inner circle for those who quit.
"You were held hostage emotionally," said one ex-Wieden employee, "and made to feel like a traitor if you left. It was an unrealistic attitude. The world doesn't work that way anymore."
For some, there was discontent with how people were compensated, both emotionally and financially.
"Dan didn't understand or appreciate what these people contributed to Nike," said one former staffer who said he had a good experience working there. "There was this mentality of, 'You're lucky to be here -- now shut up.' "
Said another: "When David Kennedy left, a large part of the agency's soul fell by the wayside, and was never picked up by anybody."
Adjusting to life after Wieden -- and without the aura of working on Nike in which to surround themselves -- may be a harder stretch for the creatives than for account-siders like himself, said Mr. Sawyer.
NO BIG GUN
Perhaps the biggest adjustment CDs will have to make, Mr. Sawyer said, "is that Dan is no longer in the corner. There was a big gun there who would, when asked, come in and help out. And now, they're it. The buck stops with them."
Indeed, even for those who were critical of some aspects of life at Wieden, there is almost universal admiration for Mr. Wieden.
"The freedom to take risks is an extension of who Dan is," said Mr. Barrett. "He lets you pursue whatever vision you have," but not without limits. "It can be a difficult place if you don't deliver."
"In a warped sort of way, Dan should be proud," said Mr. Engel. "The kids have grown up and they want to move out."
For him, the move to Lowe represented "the chance to see if I could inspire other people to do great work. " And to achieve that he intends to follow Mr. Wieden's advice: "Hire great people, then get out of the way and let them do