Jeff Johnson assumes the chief executive officer's role at WestWayne with a clear agenda: win new business; move into an acquisition mode; and recharge the staff.
"We held our own, but we didn't have the big, rah-rah new business wins last year," said Johnson. "We cut programs, parties, incentives—the fun part of this business. A big part of my job is to keep people pumped up. Morale alone can make a difference."
Johnson, 49, also confirmed he was holding preliminary buy-out talks with at least one Atlanta shop.
Outgoing CEO Ben West, 50, who relinquishes operational and budgetary responsibility of the $400 million shop, remains as chairman.
"Let everyone understand that Jeff is the go-to person," said West. "He's empowered to run the agency on a day-to-day basis."
Sources suggested the board—West, Johnson, chief financial officer Tom Fuller, executive creative director Luke Sullivan and consultant Gerald Germain—will play an active role in overseeing the Atlanta-based independent agency.
"Ben has not handed over the reins carte blanche," said one board member. "We will monitor management and set policies, strategy and long-range goals."
West serves as senior account manager on the shop's largest piece of business: Southeast Toyota Distributors (estimated $90 million in 2002 billings) of Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Sources said Johnson, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology, is an upbeat and decisive manager, popular with the agency's 275-person staff.
He was hired as president of WestWayne's Miami and Tampa, Fla., locations in 1999. A year later, he was named president of the Atlanta office as well.
Johnson has helped deliver more than $140 million in new business billings from clients such as Denny's, The Sports Authority and Russell Sportswear.
Before joining WestWayne, Johnson, a native of Seattle, worked at New York agencies Wells Rich Green BDDP, Scali McCabe Sloves, J. Walter Thompson and Benton & Bowles.