Editorial: Y&R's Fudge a smart wager

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WPP Group did three smart things in naming Ann Fudge chairman-CEO of Young & Rubicam: Hire an advertiser to run an agency and choose an African-American, and a woman, for the job.

Hiring a client executive to run a giant agency is a gamble. With years of experience at General Mills, General Foods and (till 2001) Kraft Foods, Ms. Fudge certainly knows how to buy advertising. But skeptics-some inside Y&R and other WPP shops-already ask if she can lead an agency and sell great ad ideas.

Y&R's first major client, in 1923, was Postum Co. It evolved into Kraft, which still employs Y&R. But Ms. Fudge offers more than ties to a key client. As a brand marketer, and as a director at blue-chip companies such as General Electric Co., she has established herself in the wider corporate world.

While a standout agency executive usually lands the top job, agency vets shouldn't get the post by default. Indeed, Ms. Fudge has a better shot than most agency CEOs at being viewed as a peer by clients. It also means she can help Y&R address a belief among some advertisers that agencies don't "get" the real world-a world where clients need agencies to aggressively rethink processes to deliver smart marketing ideas at a lower price.

WPP chief Martin Sorrell recruited Ms. Fudge three years after buying Y&R-as he hired Charlotte Beers to run Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide three years after buying Ogilvy. (He later named another woman, Shelly Lazarus, to succeed Ms. Beers at Ogilvy.)

It's progress that women CEOs are no longer curiosities and that African-American men lead such companies as AOL Time Warner and Merrill Lynch. Unfortunately, it still is "news" when the new agency boss is an African-American woman. Some day that, too, will be no big deal. Mr. Sorrell is smart for finding such talent. Now it's up to Ms. Fudge to silence the skeptics.

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