New Y&R Chief Is Wasting No Time

Breen Gives Himself 100 Days to Effect Change at Chicago Agency
CHICAGO–Howard Breen may have grown up in Canada, but his business philosophy was inspired by Amerian icon John F. Kennedy.
His premise: It shouldn’t take more than 100 days to do anything.
That gives Breen, the new president and chief executive officer at Young & Rubicam, Chicago, until about December to implement his blueprint for change at the office, whose clients include Sears, Roebuck & Co., Jim Beam and Norwegian Cruise Line.
Breen took over in August, replacing Pat Cafferata. One of his first moves was to cut 10 employees, a decision tied to the shop’s July loss of $12-14 million in Kraft business. The “redialing of resources,” as Breen termed it, also gave him a chance to restructure the agency. “We really cut out a lot of layers. We’ve gone totally flat,” he said.
Such rapid change naturally gave some staffers cause for concern. “There’d better be some angst,” Breen said. “If there’s not, why am I here?”
Breen, an Ontario native who formerly headed Y&R’s Canadian operations, is blunt about wanting an efficient, team-oriented agency that develops quality creative. “A warship doesn’t carry any passengers,” he said.
Breen said his efforts will be a success when his employees, when asked what they do, answer, “Help clients win.”
Breen has promoted 11-year agency veteran Kary McIlwain to executive vice president, managing director, and Jim Lecinski to senior vice president, director of client services. A top priority now is to find a replacement for executive creative director Tom Shortlidge, who retires in December.
Breen is looking nationwide, and wants someone by December, when Y&R relocates to new offices. While Shortlidge was an art director, Breen says he will consider creatives who aren’t. “Sometimes you have to break logic,” he said.
Former colleagues aren’t surprised to hear Breen is shaking things up in Chicago. “Some people are like a breath of fresh air. He is like a gale force wind of fresh air,” said John Farquhar, Y&R Canada’s executive vice president, co-creative director.
His record backs that up. Under Breen’s leadership, Y&R became one of Canada’s most award-winning shops, and the country’s third-largest, doubling its revenue in the years following his arrival in 1996.
“He can make the tough decisions,” said Ann Boden, president of OMD Canada, Omnicom’s media buying arm. Boden worked with Breen when he was managing director at BBDO Canada. “He’s very good at putting his own stamp on things.”
“He’s great at realizing human potential, seeing what people may or may not be very good at,” added Farquhar. “He’s very aware he can only be a success through others.”
Breen conceded some of his 160 staffers are still anxious, but says the laughter will return when his “agency family” recognizes his path leads to better, more efficient work. “When I get everybody doing the same thing in the same direction, then my job is to get the hell out of the way,” he said.