Restructuring in 2000; Finding Creative Heir
NEW YORK–Ken Kaess, next in line to lead DDB Worldwide, was serving as second-in-command at the network’s Los Angeles office in the early ’90s when chairman and CEO Keith Reinhard first noticed him.
“I was so impressed every time I visited,” Reinhard said. “Morale was always up, and the place was constantly bristling with ideas.”
It would mark the start of Kaess’ rapid ascent at DDB, during which he cultivated a reputation for consensus building.
After four years as president of DDB in L.A., Kaess moved in 1994 to New York, where he is credited with reviving an office by winning accounts such as Digital and Lockheed Martin.
In 1997, he took over as president of DDB U.S. and played a key role in centralizing media operations at Optimum Media, a difficult task in a network filled with largely independent offices. “We were trying to do that for years, and he did it in six months,” said Reinhard.
Kaess, 44, also helped create Beyond DDB, which pulled below-the-line services into one group. Last May, he became president of DDB North America.
A key question about Kaess is “whether the steel is there,” said a source. “He’s been on such a fast track, some of the things that burnish you–winning a big account by yourself, guiding an agency through [change or] a crisis haven’t been there.”
Kaess now has the opportunity to lead via change; one of the mandates of the new worldwide operating committee, which Kaess chairs, is to recommend by next year a structure for DDB in its reinvention as a “brand architect.”
While Kaess is now officially heir to Reinhard, 64, a creative successor has yet to surface, a fact Kaess also acknowledged. “Right now, we’re dealing with operational issues,” he said, “but at some point, we’re going to have to address that.” Candidates include Bob Scarpelli, 46, chief
creative officer of DDB Chicago, and Nizan Guanaes, 40, president of DM9 DDB Brazil. But Reinhard doesn’t intend to retire anytime soon. “I’m having too much fun,” he said.