Rosemarie Ryan spent 11 of her 19 years in advertising at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners in New York. It's where she honed her skills as an account planner and cut her teeth in management, and she considers her colleagues "family."
So when Ryan, president of the Kirshenbaum Bond Creative Network, was approached by J. Walter Thompson's Bob Jeffrey in June, she wasn't looking to move. Even though Jeffrey, North American president of the WPP Group agency, deemed Ryan a top candidate for the New York president post—vacant for two and a half years—he considered the effort a "long shot."
For years, the two met from time to time to chat about the business. When Ryan was introduced to Jeffrey's colleagues (JWT worldwide CEO Peter Schweitzer and New York chief creative officer Mike Campbell, among others), it was the chemistry and the shared belief that good ideas can come from any discipline that swayed her into taking the reins of the $1.4 billion shop.
Ryan's desire to play in a larger arena—JWT's New York office has more than three times the billings of Kirshenbaum, and its staff of 525 is about twice as large—was another factor.
"In a good way, there's been a lot of foreplay," Jeffrey said about the hire. Ryan, 40, who joins Jan. 1, will report to Jeffrey.
"[Kirshenbaum] has been my home for a very long time," said Ryan, who is known as an inclusive leader and team builder, and has held planning posts at BBDO in London and the former Chiat/Day in New York. "But I think I've done everything that I need to do there."
At Kirshenbaum, Ryan, who oversaw $450 million in billings at the agency and its below-the-line units, touched all accounts. She is particularly proud of the bigger brand ideas the shop developed for Meow Mix cat food (the concept of keeping cats happy) and Wyndham hotels (fulfilling personal requests).
Jeffrey also cited guerrilla work for Snapple, which included stickers on mangos in supermarkets that read, "Now available in Snapple. Mango Madness."
Kirshenbaum will promote from within to replace Ryan, the shop said. Effective immediately, managing partner Aaron Reitkopf becomes president of the New York office, co-executive creative director Rob Feakins adds the title of vice chairman for the network, and network chief financial officer Stephen Fick becomes chief operating officer.
Jeffrey said he relates to Ryan's experience at Kirshenbaum, noting that he also came from a smaller shop—he ran Goldsmith/Jeffrey. Jeffrey, who advances to worldwide CEO on Jan. 1, has tried to mold JWT in the image of a "billion- dollar startup" that moves quickly to meet client needs.
"I always had an entrepreneurial attitude about New York" he said, "and it was very important for me to find somebody who I had the trust in" to carry that torch.
Ryan is ready for that bigger stage. "It takes as much energy to create a brand idea and work off of it for an account that's $50 million or $10 million or $5 million," she said. "It's about getting the right team together and getting them to work together."