DDB CEO Kaess Dies at 51

NEW YORK DDB worldwide CEO and president Ken Kaess, who spent 20 years at DDB and rose to CEO in 2001, died Monday of cancer at his family’s home in Westport, Conn. He was 51.

“Like all of you, I will miss him very much,” wrote Omnicom Group CEO John Wren, in a memo that DDB shared with its employees. “He was the driver behind DDB’s success these last five years and, of course, I will miss him in that role. But I also will miss his friendship and positive spirit.”

A former chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Kaess was determined to diversify the industry and, in 1998, founded the Bill Bernbach Minority Scholarship Fund. In 2004, the New York Urban League honored him with an award in the name of Frederick Douglass for promoting diversity and opportunity.

Kaess also served on the boards of the Ad Council and American Education Foundation and was chairman of the first Advertising Week industry celebration, which was held in New York in 2004.

“Anheuser-Busch extends its deepest condolences and we express our heartfelt sadness to the family, friends and employees of DBB on their tragic loss of Ken Kaess. Ken was a close personal friend, colleague and partner. Ken’s humor, humanity and leadership will be missed by the many people he touched,” said August A. Busch IV, president of Anheuser-Busch.

“Ken was an inspiration to all of us and he will be sorely missed,” aid Keith Reinhard, global chairman of DDB. “Ken was at the top of his game, and in so many ways, he represented the future, not only of our company but of the industry itself. And as many people have said, it’s amazing how someone so nice could get so far, so fast.”

Kaess was born on July 30, 1954, in Waterbury, Conn., and grew up in Watertown, Conn. A graduate of the McTernan School, Suffield Academy and Vassar College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Kaess also was an accomplished pianist who after graduating from college toyed with the idea of becoming a professional musician. “When there was no call from an agent, I moved to New York City,” Kaess once said in an interview with his school magazine.

In New York, he landed his first job at Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1977 as an account executive working on the Mobil business. In 1981, he went on to become a vice president at Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor and then vice president of children’s programming at New World Entertainment, where he was responsible for the Emmy award-winning Muppet Babies.

In 1990, he returned to DDB as president of DDB Entertainment in Los Angeles and in 1992 became president of DDB’s overall Los Angeles operations. In 1994, he became president of the agency’s flagship New York office and was promoted to U.S. president in 1997. In 1998, he was named president of DDB’s North American operations and in 1999 he was appointed president of DDB Worldwide and chairman of its Worldwide Operating Committee. In January 2001, he assumed the additional position of worldwide CEO.

Funeral services will be for family and close friends only, and will be held on Friday, March 31, at Christ and Holy Trinity Church, 55 Myrtle Ave. in Westport. A memorial service in Manhattan is planned, at a date to be announced later.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1275 York Ave., New York, N.Y. 10021, or Builders Beyond Borders, 8 Willard Rd., Norwalk, Conn. 06851.

Kaess is survived by his children, Courtney and Christopher; his ex-wife, Heidi; his sister, Karen; his brother, Karl; and his father, Dr. Kenneth R. Kaess Sr.