Sann’s Heir at BBDO Lands Top Posts at Y&R New York

In hiring Michael Patti as worldwide creative director and New York chairman and CEO, Young & Rubicam is getting a seasoned executive whose creative excellence is undisputed in the industry. But it remains to be seen whether the man who once got into a fistfight with a colleague and took a baseball bat to storyboards rejected by a client has the experience and temperament to run Y&R’s $1.2 billion flagship office in New York.

Patti arrives at the office—which works with AT&T, Colgate, Cadbury Schweppes and Danone, among others—on March 1.

A 19-year veteran of BBDO New York, Patti, 49, was being groomed as heir apparent to Ted Sann, chief creative officer of BBDO New York and North America, sources said. “This feels like a divorce, except that we don’t hate each other,” Patti said of Sann, his mentor. “It’s more like the little brother leaving the big brother.”

Of his reputation, Patti told Adweek, “Show me a great creative person who doesn’t have a temper about getting great work sold. If it doesn’t piss you off when great work is rejected, you shouldn’t be in the creative department.”

“I like the fact that he’s a brawler,” said one Y&R executive. “We need some of that in this business.”

In a memo to the agency on Friday, Sann noted that Patti and his contributions would be missed. “I have personally enjoyed working with Michael during this time,” he wrote. “I have taken great pride in watching him grow.”

Patti will have the same New York titles as predecessor Ron Bess. But he is expected to focus more on the work and new-business efforts and less on operational issues, said Y&R worldwide CEO Mike Dolan, who plans to promote a senior Y&R executive to general manager. Bess will take on a corporate role at Y&R Group.

Dolan’s hope is that Patti will serve as a “magnet for creative talent,” he said. “It’s a sign that we’re committed to having the best product in the business, and you do that by getting the best people.”

Dolan, 56, added that he is confident Patti is up to the task of running a large office, noting, “We complement each other. We’re going into this as partners.”

Patti’s departure leaves a sizable void in the top tier at BBDO New York, especially on its $75 million U.S. Pepsi account. Patti won countless awards for producing much of Pepsi’s most memorable work during the last decade, including spots that featured Michael J. Fox, Bob Dole, Madonna and, most recently, Britney Spears.

He also launched General Electric’s “Imagination at Work” campaign last month and worked on Pizza Hut.

Patti was one of six ecds at BBDO New York, where a third of the 600 staffers are in the creative department. The remaining ecds are Charlie Miesmer, 60; Al Merrin, 56; Bill Bruce, 41; Gerry Graf, 36; and Jimmy Siegel, 48. An agency rep said there is no decision yet whether anyone will be promoted into Patti’s spot or who will team with art director Don Schneider, Patti’s partner for 10 years.

Sources said that with Patti’s departure, all eyes at BBDO are on Siegel, the next logical successor to Sann.