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Bill Koenigsberg Is Ad Age's Agency A-List Executive of the Year

A Fiercely Independent Innovator, Horizon's Founder Is a Trusted, Steady Hand in a Constantly Shifting Business

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Mid-sentence, Bill Koenigsberg flings open a drawer in his custom maple-and-brushed-steel desk to retrieve a sneaker, his prop to make a point. It's no ordinary sneaker; the Supra brand shoe has a sole that doubles as ad space for one of his clients.

"Corona beer can be in the sneaker business," he said emphatically.

It's that sort of anything-is -possible attitude emanating from Mr. Koenigsberg, the CEO of Horizon Media, that peers admire and clients find irresistible.

Credit: Josie Jammet

"Because he's creative in his approach and looks to the long-term financial well-being of his organization and our relationship, we've had, in 18 years, not one moment of friction," said longtime client Geico Chief Marketing Officer Ted Ward.

At a time when the media landscape is continually tilting, Mr. Koenigsberg is a steady navigator.

"I find him to be driven by ways to innovate, whether it's through Scout [the sports-management division] or different ways of looking at how to integrate other clients with our media," said Nancy Dubuc, president at A&E Networks and another longtime client. "We're all moving so fast there's an impulse to run to the next thing, so it's nice to have that trusted voice."

That voice is also trusted by the industry at large, as evidenced by Mr. Koenigsberg's post as chair of the 4A's media-policy committee. He recently took the lead on the development of a policy on nondiscriminatory media-buying practices, said 4A's President Nancy Hill.

"There are those in the industry who step up when you ask them, and there is Bill, who steps up before you ask him," said Ms. Hill. "No matter the issue, no matter the politics, no matter the time required. He's the first to raise his hand and get it done."

Mr. Koenigsberg has also been outspoken about fair compensation for agencies and promotes moving the TV-buying upfront to September from May, closer in line with fall TV schedules.

Meanwhile, his own firm has become a hot property. But despite getting advances from just about every holding company, Mr. Koenigsberg insists on staying independent. Instead, he wants to buy or build a digital creative shop to grow his $300 million-plus digital business. He's investing in mobile to get into app development and is fostering innovations to help clients focus on partnerships, like the Corona sneaker.

In 2011, Horizon picked up nearly $1 billion in new billings and increased its employee count 18%. It added business from Kraft Foods, Capital One, Clearwire, United Continental and Buddy Media.

The future wasn't always so bright for Mr. Koenigsberg, who was raised on Long Island. The self-confessed TV junkie, whose father ran a home-heating business and whose mother was a homemaker, dreamed of getting into the media field but had little guidance.

"I started out in the industry by pounding the streets, dropping my resume off at a bunch of agencies," he said. After dabbling at now-defunct media shops, he made a giant bet 22 years ago: Based on an "epiphany that media would continue to explode," he borrowed $13 million to acquire Media General's buying division. That loan formed the basis of Horizon.

He now sits on the 16th floor of a building that houses a mini-theater in a private office that 's larger than a New York apartment. Horizon is a place that not a lot of people are eager to leave: Turnover is less than 12% -- very low for the volatile media-agency business.

Perhaps that has something to do with Mr. Koenigsberg's remembering what it was like to be a rookie with big dreams, the kind of guy who grows up to prove that anything -- even advertising on shoes -- is possible.

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