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When Gene Beard joined Interpublic Group of Cos. as chief financial officer 15 years ago, the company's financial managers were little more than bookkeepers.

"They were non-participatory management positions," Mr. Beard said recently.

Today, he heads finance and operations at Interpublic; he's also vice chairman.

Those enlarged responsibilities are in large part the result of Mr. Beard's abilities. They also are emblematic of a change in the way large ad agencies view their financial officers.

"It used to be that ads were all that was important, [but] chief executives have come to value CFOs more in the last five years," said Philip Palazzo, exec VP-general manager and chief financial officer of Interpublic's Ammirati & Puris/Lintas, New York, and newly named chief financial officer of Lintas Worldwide for North and South America.

Said Abe Jones, who evaluates agencies as managing director of AdMedia Corporate Advisors, an investment banking firm: "There are some great CFOs....who have really added value to their agencies." Three of the best are Mr. Beard, Fred Meyer of Omnicom Group and Craig Brown of D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, he said.

Mr. Palazzo, who has watched Ammirati grow from 22 people to 700 in his 16 years there, runs the agency's operations as well as its books. On average, he meets directly with clients twice a week. As with most of his peers, negotiating and managing compensation agreements is a major part of his job.

Not all agencies see chief financial officers as central figures.

"The important thing agencies do is create advertising, and the CFO has no role in that," said Colin Probert, partner and president, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. Nevertheless, Mr. Probert agrees the importance of the finance function has grown. "A number of agencies have had to focus a lot harder on costs because they are not seeing revenue growth," he said.

Alice Z. Cuneo contributed to this story.

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