CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- As the managing director of DraftFCB's Chicago office, Karen Sauder leads the largest agency office in the U.S.
She didn't get there by being a "girly girl," as she puts it.
Ms. Sauder, 42, started her career in a series of sales and marketing jobs at Anheuser-Busch, known as a boy's club. The St. Louis native thrived, she said, because "I play golf, I drink, I can hang out." That was followed by a regional manager job at Frito-Lay, a position that, at times, involved contentious talks with Teamsters.
In 1998, she joined promotions agency Zipatoni, where she rose from account director to president, and after that firm was acquired by Interpublic Group of Cos. in 2005, she found herself a managing director in the holding company's newly merged combination of promotional agency Draft and creative network FCB, where some of that experience dealing with Teamsters may have come in handy.
"I was coming in from the outside, and it helped to be a neutral broker," she said. People from one legacy agency were "a little leery, a little mistrustful, and a little ignorant" about their new colleagues.
Ms. Sauder worked to smooth things over, and also spearheaded efforts to recruit new talent.
There's no arguing with the results. DraftFCB's Chicago office has kept the vast majority of its legacy clients -- including S.C. Johnson, Yum Brands and Coors Brewing (now MillerCoors) -- while adding business from the likes of Kmart, Volkswagen and State Farm.
And it now ranks as the largest holistic agency office in the country, usurping a title formerly held by Interpublic sibling McCann Erickson in New York, and, locally, by crosstown rival Leo Burnett, part of Publicis Groupe. The agency grew despite a brutal climate last year, thanks largely to the Chicago office, and merited a spot on Ad Age's Agency A-List for the first time.
Ms. Sauder's role in that rise hasn't gone unnoticed. Last fall, the Chicago Advertising Federation named her its "Advertising Woman of the Year."
"She's one of the strongest voices on our senior management team and looked to by our entire agency -- especially women -- as a strong and inspirational, yet humble leader," DraftFCB North America President Mark Modesto said at the time. "She's played a significant role in the process that got us where we are today."