GroupM's Rob Norman Retires After Three Decades -- Well, Sort Of

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Rob Norman.
Rob Norman. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Rob Norman, the outspoken global chief digital officer of GroupM, is leaving his full-time role at WPP's media investment group after more than three decades at the company.

Norman, who had been CEO of GroupM North America before he took over the new chief digital officer role in 2012, will remain an advisor to GroupM and clients with a "reduced workload that allows him more time to pursue personal interests," GroupM said in a statement. He will leave the full-time role effective January 2018.

Media is a tough business with its share of difficult moments, Norman tells Ad Age, and some keep at it because they have "unbound brilliance" or "unbound determination."

"There are other people that are kept going by unbound curiosity. I think I'm that person," he says. The "retirement thing," he hopes, will broaden the horizons a bit. "It allows you to be curious over a broader canvas than viewability ... not that viewability isn't important," he says.

And he wants people to know he's not really going anywhere.

"It's very, very important to me, and I hope to my colleagues and our clients, that people don't see this as a fig-leaf thing," he says. "I think that what they want me to do is carry on having access to our network and our research and all the things that keep me curious — and to share what I find with them and their clients, among the other things I do."

The more relaxed schedule will allow for some time at home (he recently built a house in West Cornwall, Connecticut) and figure out what's next. He also wants to improve his vegetarian cooking, though promises he isn't going to do the "whole Julia Child thing," and says he has a massive urge to see America and its capital cities.

"You're almost forced to live in the bubble when you work in advertising, becuase you deal with mostly well-heeled [people] and sophisticated clients," he says. "It's very, very, very clear that not all of us or very few of us that work in our business… have that much empathy with the country as a whole now."

Before taking over the CEO role, Norman had run GroupM Interaction, which oversaw operations, data processes and other tools for the group's media agencies' digital tasks. He had also been part of a team that worked on the acquisition of 24/7 Real Media.

"My friends in the business know that I've become very attached to a rural life and understand that after 31 years, it's time to do other things," he said in a statement. "It's a curiosity of our business that few people get to step back, yet stay involved; I'm honored that GroupM is allowing me to do exactly that."

GroupM said it will not name a replacement for Norman.

"We thank Rob for his loyal service and for continuing to share his passion and vision for this business as GroupM and the industry continue to evolve," said Kelly Clark, GroupM's global CEO, in an emailed statement. "I'm delighted that he will continue in an advisory capacity."

GroupM has undergone a slew of changes already this year. Over the summer, the company announced it would be merging agencies MEC and Maxus into a new agency called Wavemaker, so it could beef up another of its agencies, Essence. GroupM North America's CEO Brian Lesser also departed earlier this year for a new role at AT&T, among other leadership changes.

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