Burnett officials responded to Bell's unexpected departure with typical stoicism. "We have a lot of great bench strength," said Jim Oates, chairman of Leo Burnerr U.S.A. "Ted was one of five senior management people. When a loss of a great person can sometimes cripple an agency, we have four or five others that fill in."
Bell's exit is the latest element in what has been an atypical bumpy road for Burnerr in the past year. It started in early 1992 with the loss of vice chairman Jack Kraft. Then came the exhausting saving of the Oldsmobile business last fall. Earlier this year, chairman Rick Fizdale uncharacteristically relinquished his ceo title to Bill Lynch, which was followed by a staff layoff in May.
Fizdale ascribes the need for staff cuts to changes in the marketplace rather than any shift in Burnett's culture, which puts a premium on keeping employees and clients it wants.
"The Burnerr culture has not changed, but our tasks have," said Fizdale. "Yes, we are changing, and that is good, unless, of course, we are making mistakes. But my sense is that we are moving in the right direction."
As for the departures of Bell and vice chairmen Jack Kraft and Hank Feeley during his tenure, Fizdale said, "I think I understand why each of them decided to leave, and I don't see any connections among them. I would be shocked if (Ted's) reason for leaving was anything to do with a changed culture here."
Brought in from Doyle Dane Berbach in 1982 to breathe new life into Burnett's inbred creative culture, the 47-year-old Bell is credited with playing a major role in improving the product. On his watch, the agency began winning awards for such accounts as H.J. Heinz, Cheer, Hallmark and McDonald's, and, in 1988, took home three gold Lions and four bronze Lions from Cannes.
Bell, the fourth-highest ranking creative at the agency, had moved higher in Burnett's ranks than any other "non-lifer." Norm Muse, the retired creative chief who brought Bell to Burnerr, called him "a very polished creative guy who brought two very important things to the agency. He worked well with clients and had pretty good talent. That's pretty rare."
Bell, who often has expressed an interest in returning to the East Coast and who continues to express a belief in the "Burnett way" of management, denies he had a problem with the agency's style or his place in it that led to his decision. "I was offered a wonderful job and the timing was right," Bell said last week. "There is never a good time to leave a great company. Burnett is such a strong company. There is a wonderful wealth of talent there. Everything about (the Y&R position) was attractive. I couldn't pass it up. This feels like a three-point landing both personally and professionally."
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)