Kevin Nelson, 29

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Kevin Nelson happened upon strategic planning unaware the discipline even existed. Fresh from the University of Colorado and yearning for the out-of-doors, he conceived of a magazine for the post-modern explorer. The concept landed him job offers, but Mr. Nelson chose instead to pursue a new interest in media audiences. While perusing National Geographic and Outside Magazine, he realized advertisers aimed at the affluent hobbyist, not necessarily outdoorsmen. That provided insight into prospective consumers.

His ad career started in 1999 at Y&R Advertising, New York. Two years later , while Mr. Nelson was at a boutique, a headhunter called with a job on Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox and PC games. An avid gamer, Mr. Nelson met with now-boss Suresh Nair, exec VP-director of planning at Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide. He was impressed: "We look for that secret sauce," Mr. Nair says of prospective hires. Mr. Nelson joined McCann in late 2001, and at 29, now leads efforts on a global account.

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