Mr. O'Donnell, 42, is the new global business director on Merrill Lynch & Co. at J. Walter Thompson Co., New York.
"This job combines the skills of fast-paced retail [MCI] and financial-oriented global strategy [Citibank]," he said. "Merrill has to be responsive to the marketplace and have a retail mentality but, at the same time, have a vision of the brand."
Merrill Lynch recently launched its first online trading Web site, currently just for customers (mlol.com). Along with the site, it debuted three TV commercials telling customers that Merrill Lynch agents will still be readily available for discussions and advice.
In one, a distraught customer insists the agents will go away and won't be there to answer his questions. A Merrill Lynch agent patiently explains over and over that the people aren't going anywhere -- adding that the trademark bull isn't going anywhere either.
Mr. O'Donnell said it's a key part of his job to make sure the brand representing advice and consulting is merged smoothly with its new online offerings.
"There are a lot of strategic issues as they change over. They need to show that they will still be there to provide services," he said. "But they have to be online to stay competitive. [The company is] really straddling the line."
Before coming to JWT, Mr. O'Donnell was at Y&R Advertising as global account managing director on Citibank. He worked on MCI before that for five years, while at Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York.
The executive also did stints at Lowe & Partners/SMS on Coca-Cola Co., Braun Co. and Citibank, and at what was then Dancer Fitzgerald Sample (now Saatchi & Saatchi) on Procter & Gamble Co. and Toyota Motor Sales USA.
One of the reasons Mr. O'Donnell was attracted to JWT was New York President Bob Jeffrey, who he praised for having "vision for the business." Even before Mr. O'Donnell started at the agency, he received a "care package" of JWT-client products, as well as a Palm Pilot 5, one of Mr. Jeffrey's favored gadgets.
Mr. Jeffrey, in mutual admiration, characterized Mr. O'Donnell as a strategic thinker who can move big teams quickly.
"Merrill has been undergoing a huge paradigm shift in the last year," Mr. Jeffrey said. "They have to continue to be aggressive as they prepare to launch the direct [online selling] channel very soon."
Merrill Lynch will launch its open site -- where anyone will be able to make trades -- in December. The site will be launched first in the U.S. and is expected to be rolled out internationally next year.
Mr. O'Donnell said it's premature to discuss Merrill Lynch's global plans. The primary focus is the domestic strategy and integrating the new Internet functionality into the brand positioning, he said.
On the account he succeeds Tom Cotton, who had handled both Merrill Lynch and the Qwest telecommunications accounts, but recently moved over to manage rapidly