During his eight months of unemployment, Bill Oberlander, who left Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners in December after 11 years as CD/managing partner, found himself touring 50 agencies looking for work, some as far away as Europe. He created a business model that he shopped, unsuccessfully, to holding companies, and he hired a tutor to show him the ropes of digital advertising. On the upside, he had plenty of time to read bedtime stories to his two sons - but the job hunt left him shaken. "I feel like I have to prove myself all over again," he says. "But at the same time, it's insecurity that drives you."
Last month, Oberlander joined the New York office of Ogilvy & Mather as one of five executive creative directors - two years after chief CD Rick Boyko first approached him about joining O&M. There he'll work with Dan Burrier on the Perrier, Motorola and Cotton accounts, and oversee the Young Guns, an O&M program that offers jobs to top advertising school grads. The temperamental young man who helped transform KB&P from a 12-person shop to a bi-coastal agency with $500 million in billings has finally moved on. Somewhere between the birth of his sons and his split with Kirshenbaum, Bill Oberlander has become - in his words and those who witnessed his notorious temper tantrums at the office - a grownup.
The sharp-dressing Oberlander, 41, garnered a reputation as a dandy early in his art director's career, which began in New York at McCaffrey & McCall, before he moved on to McCann-Erickson. "You know the expression, `What would Jesus do?' " says James Hitchcock, formerly at Kirshenbaum and now ECD at Frierson Mee in New York. "The industry expression is, `What would Bill wear?' " Oberlander was hired by Richard Kirshenbaum in 1990 to lend style and sophistication to the brash upstart agency. Press releases described the hire as adding "a velvet glove to the brass fist," and Oberlander led the agency on several notable accounts, including Target and Snapple. In the early years, when they were lean and mean, the "KB boys" enjoyed a reputation as leaders of a daring agency. So why did the partnership dissolve? Had the agency simply become too big for its own good? Rumors abound, but Oberlander won't discuss the breakup, beyond noting, "We simply outgrew each other. We were in our 20s when we started; young and single, with no mortgages in the mix. We didn't have a dental plan, and no one cared. The attitude was, `We'll have our teeth forever!' "
Many think the move will lead to stronger creative both at O&M and at KB&P, where newcomer Rob Feakins, formerly co-CD at Ammirati Puris Lintas, is getting high marks as Oberlander's replacement, alongside Logan Wilmont. Meanwhile, Oberlander and Burrier describe their ad aesthetic as "brutally simple and succinct." If that sounds a bit like the old days of K&B, the move uptown to a megashop is not so much an issue of selling out as one of settling down, says Oberlander. "If you'd told me five years ago that I would be living in Westchester and working in midtown, I wouldn't have believed it. But now I just want to be normal. I'm ready to buy the Burberry trench coat and toe the line." (GH)