Burnett's new leaders: Wolf, Brennan boosted

By Published on .

The selection of a new top team at Bcom3 Group offered some unexpected twists that hint at a future direction for an agency whose apples rarely fall far from the corporate tree.

The holding company enabled Leo Burnett USA CEO Linda Wolf, 52, to break through the glass ceiling and gender barrier by naming her to succeed Bcom3 CEO Roger Haupt as chairman-CEO of Leo Burnett Worldwide. It also pulled a stunner in appointing 41-year-old wunderkind Robert Brennan, Starcom Media-Vest Chief Operating Officer, to lead Leo Burnett Worldwide as president. That post had been vacant since the 1999 departure of James Oates.

The selection of Mr. Brennan breaks with Burnett's normal practice of appointing its heirs from within the advertising agency and indicates that the media unit will become an even stronger part of Bcom3's strategy going forward.


A third unpredictable choice came Sept. 29, when Burnett picked Brad Brinegar, 45, now chief operating officer of Leo Burnett USA, to succeed Ms. Wolf as president. Mr. Brinegar just returned to the agency in July from the now-defunct Chicago office of Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide.

Rounding out the Leo Burnett Worldwide management team is Stephen J. Gatfield, 42, who will assume the chief operating officer role from group president of Leo Burnett's Asia/Pacific region. Rick Fizdale, 61, remains vice chairman of Bcom3 while relinquishing the chairman's post at Leo Burnett Worldwide to Ms. Wolf.


In choosing these new leaders, Burnett is signaling a wider vision for the agency, which has been eclipsed by competitors in expanding its non-traditional service capabilities. To do so, Mr. Haupt abandoned the expected path to send a message that the company would position itself against competitors on the global scale. "Without making these changes and without getting a top management team in place, my chance of getting the IPO would have definitely been hindered," he said.

The team mix is "another example of a big agency playing catch-up in the plate of full services," said one Bcom3 watcher. The moves free up Mr. Haupt to concentrate on filling in service weaknesses such as one-to-one direct marketing, branding, public relations and sales promotion that the agency tried to build "the Leo way" but that have failed to catch up to services offered by Omnicom Group and Interpublic Group of Cos., the observer said.

Those are hot growth areas for global agencies that have invested heavily in building non-traditional billings. Rival Omnicom posted 53% of its revenue from services outside the traditional creative and media realm, and analysts estimated Interpublic's revenue split at 45% diversified and 55% traditional. Bcom3 wouldn't break out its split, but an executive close to the agency estimated only about one-third of Bcom3's revenue comes from non-advertising billings.


"The challenge we all have . . . is the whole issue of the depth and breadth of service and brands where there is multiple choice," Mr. Haupt said. While he said he is comfortable with his agency brands' geographic coverage, his challenge is "to expand our depth and breadth of service offerings, particularly in customer relationship management, direct and database," he said.

The new management team wouldn't detail their plans, but Mr. Brennan said "after creating a common vision, we'll break down and divide and conquer. I'll concentrate on North America and technology and how to drive the vision. Steve [Gatfield] will be international and human resources, and Linda [Wolf] will concentrate on key client relationships and our new-business profile."

Ms. Wolf has a reputation as a skilled client-handler; Mr. Brennan is credited with building Starcom into an $18 billion media powerhouse; and Mr. Gatfield provides the global operations expertise needed to coordinate and leverage the agency network's combined resources with new ones acquired over time, observers said.


Noticeably missing in the new appointments is a creative leader, which points up the importance of managers who understand the financial pressures of a publicly held company. That omission wasn't well-received by some Burnett-watchers, however.

"The creative isn't as important in advertising and isn't really important to Burnett," groused one former Leo Burnett executive, who said, "an agency run by bean counters makes advertising that looks like it was made by bean counters."

In other Bcom3 shifts last week, Arthur Selkowitz, 56, was elevated to vice chairman and chief client officer of Bcom3, from chairman-CEO of D'Arcy Worldwide, based in New York. Susan Gianinno, 50, and John Farrell, 42, take the top worldwide positions at Bcom3's D'Arcy. Ms. Gianinno and Mr. Farrell previously were co-presidents of D'Arcy's trans-Atlantic region, which encompasses North America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Ms. Gianinno retains her chief branding officer title and takes on the title of chairman; Mr. Farrell becomes president-CEO.

Mr. Farrell and Ms. Gianinno also hope to name their successors for the trans-Atlantic post before the end of the year.

Most Popular
In this article: