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"I'm in line to succeed Burt Manning" has been an everyday confession by seemingly innumerable ambitious ad executives on Madison Avenue in recent years.

The real successor to J. Walter Thompson Co.'s coveted chairman-ceo slot, however, probably never said that to a soul, and Peter Schweitzer, JWT president-chief operating officer, has wound up with the brass ring.

"I've never declared myself a fair-haired boy," says Mr. Schweitzer, who, when asked why he's the designated heir to one of the industry's highest-profile agency executives, quips, "I think I look like the Commodore."

Mr. Schweitzer was referring to the agency's late bearded founder, J. Walter Thompson, who was commodore of the New York Yacht Club. Mr. Schweitzer also resembles Mr. Manning, and like Mr. Manning, is refreshingly more candid than many spit-and-polished industry peers.

In fact, Mr. Schweitzer, 54, says agency brass tend to "overrate what we do."

Indeed, the father of six, whose children range in age from 2 to 34, is an avid sailor and pictures himself running a marina or a diner if he weren't in the ad business.

But "Where else could I make all this money and do something legal?"

For now, when Mr. Schweitzer is not on the water, the Detroit-based account man supervises JWT's Ford Motor Co. business, a connection agency insiders say helped him outmaneuver other aspiring JWT executives in being named to the No. 2 post.

Indeed, insiders claim his ascendancy has rankled some executives. Dust is still settling after the defections of strategist Peter Kim and New York office General Manager Jim Heekin late last year to McCann-Erickson Worldwide.

Mr. Schweitzer is expected to be named ceo as soon as he designates his successor on the Ford account, agency insiders say. However, Mr. Manning, 62-who has said Mr. Schweitzer will replace him but who is also expected to remain chairman for a while after ward-refuses to dis cuss that timing.

Whenever that is, Mr. Schweitzer is likely to stir things up in New York. He says he doesn't believe big agencies can win the creative battle against boutique shops.

"We can't compete creatively with Hal Riney & Partners and Wieden & Kennedy; we do different things for our clients," Mr. Sch weitzer says, noting "a good part" of JWT's Ford revenue comes from services other than basic advertising.

And, in contrast to many peers, Mr. Schweitzer is openly skeptical about the 500-channel interactive hoopla: "Right now, none of us really knows what's going on," the Chicago native says. "I can order out of my L.L. Bean catalog electronically. So what?"

Then he's quick to add: "Of course, I'm criticized because I don't have a computer. Four hundred and fifty people in the office do, why should I? I use the telephone."M


Peter Schweitzer, in line to be the next ceo, resembles the original J. Walter Thompson.

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