Zambezi, Promoting From Within, Becomes One of the Few Ad Agencies With a Female CEO

Jean Freeman to lead the indie L.A. shop

Last year, Freeman revamped Zambezi's benefits package to include three months of paid parental leave.
Zambezi

Los Angeles-based independent agency Zambezi has promoted Jean Freeman to chief executive officer. This makes it one of the relatively few advertising agencies led by a woman.

Outgoing CEO and co-founder Chris Raih, who made the announcement yesterday, will serve as president and lead new business efforts moving forward.

“This shift is really about setting up Zambezi for our next evolution,” Raih said in a statement. “My focus will be where it’s always been, driving new business and staying focused on the work. By becoming president and leaving behind CEO duties, I will be in position to spend more time on the client work.”

“Jean is ready. She is a rare combination of doer, thinker and leader,” he added. “Her role as COO, and the operational running of the business was created by design. Jean has been the key decision maker in everything we have done. She will be an exceptional CEO.”

In a statement, Freeman said the agency aims "to become the most admired and progressive independent agency in the country."

Freeman took majority ownership of the agency two years ago and has served as its COO. She originally joined Zambezi as director of operations in 2008 before being promoted to general manager in 2013 and COO two years later.

Last year she revamped Zambezi’s benefits package to include three months of paid parental leave, “baby bonuses” for new and existing parents, green commuting incentives and “unlimited paid time-off.” Her previous agency jobs include two years as an account director with M&C Saatchi in Los Angeles.

In a statement, Freeman said the agency aims “to become the most admired and progressive independent agency in the country,” adding, “we’re well on our way.”

“I’ve been helping grow Zambezi for the past 8 years. I will continue to be the leader on all the business aspects of the agency but will assume a more front-facing role,” she said. “I also will be strengthening our talent team in 2017, as I want to continue to foster an environment of learning and teaching at Zambezi.”

In addition to the CEO announcement, Zambezi also recently named Deutsch veteran Gavin Lester as its first chief creative officer. The agency’s client roster currently includes Autotrader, TaylorMade and The Venetian Las Vegas, among others.