Thomas J. Burrell
Burrell Communications Group, Chicago
Determined to become a copywriter 40 years ago, when African-Americans were scarce at agencies, Burrell started in a Chicago agency's mailroom and was promoted to copywriter in 1961. During the '60s, the race issue gained significant traction on Madison Avenue and Burrell became one of the blacks -- John Small, Frank Mingo, David Sullivan and Caroline Jones among them -- who ventured into the agency field. By 1980, Burrell had become the largest African-American agency. Stressing "variables" inherent in African-Americans' experiences rather than "integrated" TV spots, Burrell added such clients as Procter & Gamble Co., Coca-Cola Co., McDonald's Corp. and Sears, Roebuck & Co., and surpassed $168 million in billings in 1998.