Advertising Hall of Famer and former CEO of Leo Burnett Co., Hall “Cap” Adams Jr., died on June 25 after a head injury from a fall. He was 86.
Adams oversaw the Chicago ad agency during a period of unrivaled success from 1986 to 1991. When Adams was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame in 2002, that five-year period was the “largest domestic and international growth in the agency’s history,” during which time it grew at an impressive average 20 percent annual clip, according to the group.
Under Adams, then-independent Leo Burnett was named Agency of the Year in 1998 by Ad Age, snagged three Gold Lions at Cannes and topped $1 billion in billings for its first time. Under Adams, the business added marquee clients such as Hallmark, Miller Lite beer, Nintendo of America and Beef Industry Councils. Adams’ tenure also saw the agency move into the 48-story Leo Burnett Building in downtown Chicago, as well as open offices in Budapest, Prague and Warsaw.
According to an obituary in the Chicago Tribune, Adams “distinguished himself by his warmth, wit, wisdom and integrity. He claims to have been hired because he was ‘the biggest applicant’ to carry boxes during the agency's move into the Prudential Building.” Adams’ Advertising Hall of Fame induction mentions his passion “about personal relationships with clients and employees,” and noted that even as chairman Adams answered his own phone.
That personal touch is something that Cheryl Berman, former Chairman and Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett, experienced firsthand just weeks into the job. Berman, at the time a 21-year-old junior copywriter, recalls a cigarette campaign that was supposed to be shown to a client. “[Adams] called me from the airport, and he said ‘I can’t, in all good faith, show this to our client,’” she says. Berman says Adams, an executive account director, knew his client and knew this campaign just would not work for them.
Berman says the rejection would have been more demoralizing if not for Adams. “The fact that somebody that high up in the company would bother to tell me, that’s the type of person he was,” says Berman, who is now CEO and Chief Creative Officer at Unbundled. She says Adams’ legacy was in his ability to form those personal relationships. “He formed friendships with people. He formed relationships with people. It was just the kind of person he was.”
Hank Feeley, former CEO of Leo Burnett International, says those same relationships with clients came through his integrity. Feeley says Adams was a man of “huge integrity,” and clients responded to that. If ads came back from production and Adams knew they wouldn’t work, “Cap would say ‘I have to go out and convince the client that we should not run this, and we should do something else.’ Even though it cost money for us,” says Feeley.
Feeley remembers Adams as someone who was calm, and willing to hear anyone’s opinion. “He wanted people to argue for their ideas, but he didn’t get in the way of their argument,” Feeley says. “I never saw him try to, because of his position as CEO, overtake or over-impose someone else’s idea.”