Seattle-based agency DNA has new owners—in a manner of speaking.
Alan Brown, co-founder and CEO, and Chris Witherspoon, president and chief growth officer, have purchased the majority of shares from co-founder and chairman Dan Gross. As part of the transition, Witherspoon, who previously held equity in the company and has now increased his stake, will become CEO and Brown will take on the role of chairman. Gross will retain a stake in the company and continue to serve on its board.
Subsequently, states the 23-year-old agency's press release, "DNA is now a minority-owned and led agency, with Chris Witherspoon becoming one of the few Black agency CEOs and Alan Brown as one of the few gay agency chairmen."
The moves are significant in an industry where diversity is woefully inadequate. According to a 2020 4A's survey of 165 agencies representing more than 40,000 employees, just 4% of Blacks and African Americans in the industry hold titles of VP or higher. Similar statistics for LGBTQ+ leaders were not readily available; 4A's did not respond to a query by deadline.
Witherspoon, who is a founding member of the advocacy group 600 & Rising, and board chair of Building Leaders and Creators, a coalition of agencies that encourages inclusion in the business through student internships, says diverse ownership is key to impacting significant change.
“A lot of agencies, and I think the role is important, are having to bring in chief diversity officers to have that focus," Witherspoon said. “I think as owners, that is a role we play because at the end of the day we are looking at our agency and making sure that it is as diverse as possible, and that we're setting up a place and culture where folks can bring their whole selves to the office, no matter their background and where they're from. That puts the accountability and responsibility squarely on us as owners. Whereas sometimes at other places you’re seeing an individual come in and that's the role. That’s the distinction and an opportunity by having such a diverse ownership group.”