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A changing of the guard is picking up speed on Madison Avenue as mega-agencies maneuver to modernize their businesses.

Long-entrenched top executives have begun passing the torch to seasoned understudies, a new generation of managers spawned by the buttoned-down account side of the business.

Industry observers expect transitions to accelerate at McCann-Erickson Worldwide and J. Walter Thompson Co. following a wave of reshuffling that began last month when Young & Rubicam Inc. Chairman Alex Kroll, 56, and Backer Spielvogel Bates Worldwide Chairman Carl Spielvogel, 64, initiated graceful exits by surrendering ceo posts to account brass (AA, Dec. 20).

Next, McCann Chairman-CEO Robert James, 57, is expected to relinquish the top slot to President-Chief Operating Officer Worldwide John Dooner Jr., 45, who has quietly assumed more operational responsibilities and assembled a tier of executives to balance the transition.

Mr. Dooner, a high-profile executive with close ties to client Coca-Cola Co., is credited with launching several new-agency innovations in recent years.

At JWT, insiders await a decision by Chairman-CEO Burt Manning, 62, to turn over his ceo post to President-Chief Operating Officer Peter Schweitzer, 54, a hand-picked successor who heads the agency's Ford Motor Co. business.

"It is certainly the time to begin the planning and execution of internal change at JWT to enable us to provide help to clients in this changing marketplace," Mr. Manning said. "Among the reasons I selected Peter is that these changes will have to be managed and well-monitored going into the future, and among his skills is the ability to do that."

Mr. Schweitzer hails from the account side of his agency. That's not unusual for the mega-agencies' new generation of emerging leaders, among them Mr. Dooner; Backer President-CEO Michael Bungey, 53; Y&R CEO Peter Georgescu, 54; and Grey Advertising's second-in-command, fiftysomething New York office President Bob Berenson.

The ascendancy of the account side reflects the growing importance for admen to be businessmen.

"You can't be good at making ads and generating ideas, and also know what's going on in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Sydney," said Dick Lord, chairman-ceo of Lord, Dentsu & Partners and a longtime agency creative. "Clients want to meet the money. There will always be a place for creatives who will be highly paid and ferociously recruited, but they aren't going to be the crux of the business."

Of those slated for shifts, only Mr. James was a dyed-in-the-wool account man. Messrs. Manning and Kroll hail from the creative side, while Mr. Spielvogel got his start in journalism as an ad columnist for The New York Times.

The transitions in agency executive suites coincide with dramatic changes in the overall industry, most notably the unbundling of media, new technology, integrated communications, international management, changes in agency compensation and pressure for bottom-line results.

Mr. Manning noted that the wave of leadership that includes himself; Mr. Kroll; Allen Rosenshine, BBDO Worldwide chairman-ceo; and Keith Reinhard, DDB Needham Worldwide chairman-ceo came up during the heyday of creativity.

Refusing to discuss his plans, Mr. Manning said: "I think coming up it may be what is needed is a more managerial and administrative skill because of the multifarious kind of functions that agencies may have to be involved in."M

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