Barbarian Group Taps Cathy Butler as CEO Following Tumultuous Year

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Cathy Butler
Cathy Butler Credit: The Barbarian Group

Cheil Worldwide's The Barbarian Group has hired DigitasLBI's Cathy Butler as CEO, effective immediately, following a string of executive departures and changes over the last year.

Ms. Butler is taking the position from Aaron Lau, who assumed the role of interim CEO last September after former chief executive Peter Kim left the agency. Mr. Kim succeeded previous CEO Sophie Kelly, who stepped down at the end of 2015. Following Ms. Kelly's departure, Chief Creative Officer Edu Pou, head of talent and HR Michele Prota, head of account management Sherri Chambers, Creative Director Jill Applebaum, Chief Technology Officer Robert Christ and co-founders Keith Butters and Benjamin Palmer, among others, left Barbarian.

"We've been looking for this role for quite some time now. It's a very important time, where we've been doing a lot of soul searching and looking at where we take Barbarian into the 21st century given we have a fantastic foundation and culture, and this is a chance to reinvent ourselves," said Mr. Lau, adding that he did more than 200 hours of interview for the CEO position with at least 50 people.

Mr. Lau, who will now transition to Cheil's president of international and CEO of North America, added that the new journey is exciting for Barbarian after it "went through a tumultuous period." He said Barbarian is now "reorganizing and stabilizing the agency" and has a lot of new client opportunities in the pipeline.

Ms. Butler was the right person to take on the arguably difficult job of turning around Barbarian because of her ability to "always challenge the status quo," as well as her mix of client and agency experience, said Mr. Lau.

"I think Barbarian Group is an amazing agency and I've always been a fan and admired the work," said Ms. Butler, who will report to Mr. Lau. She said the agency also has a sense of entrepreneurialism and fearlessness that she admires, and a strong combination of creativity and technology.

To start, Ms. Butler, most recently executive-VP and group director at DigitasLBi, said she'll focus on the "core basics" of making great work for clients and building relationships with the Barbarian team.

"We are just getting started, and I think, like everything else, it'll start with the CEO, and now that we have Cathy in place, we're going to put forward a plan and start looking at technology and building out capabilities, particularly in mobile, VR and AI," said MR. Lau.

Prior to Ms. Butler's most recent role at DigitasLBI, she served as senior-VP and group account director for its New York and Atlanta offices. Before that, she was a producer, developing first-generation platforms for Condé Nast and Epicurious, The New York Times and Ikea USA.

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