Ed Meyer, the retired chairman and former Grey Group CEO died Tuesday at age 96. Meyer led the agency for 35 years, most notably helping broker Grey’s sale to WPP in 2005.
During his tenure as CEO, Meyer built the company from a small U.S. agency into a leader in global marketing communications with operations in 83 countries. Under his leadership, Grey’s revenues grew exponentially, from $29.5 million in 1970 to more than $1.3 billion in 2003.
Meyer joined Grey in 1956 in the account service department and stepped down from his chairman and CEO roles in 2006 at age 80.
In a New York Times story from 2006, Meyer said in response to selling Grey and retiring from the business: “A couple of years ago, I realized I was not immortal. I realized I ought to preserve the business I developed, and develop a second life.”
Many stories abound about Meyer’s dedication to the business, including impossibly early board meetings in New Jersey and the time he worked at Red Lobster—who was then a client—washing and prepping the shrimp to make sure he understood the client’s business.
“Ed Meyer was a hugely important figure who not only transformed Grey into a global powerhouse but helped to shape the modern advertising industry as we know it,” said Mark Read, CEO of WPP in a statement. “He built Grey from an advertising agency into a major international communications group with a strong and independent spirit.”
Read recalled that under Meyer’s leadership, Grey created iconic campaigns for many of the world’s leading brands, including a P&G relationship he nurtured over decades.
“Grey was Ed’s lifetime work and we are proud to see his legacy continue to this day,” added Read.
Meyer was born in Manhattan in 1927 and grew up on the Upper West Side, across Central Park on Park Avenue, where he lived. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard following graduation at the tail end of World War II. When the war ended, he enrolled as an economics major at Cornell. Through college and up until he became CEO at Grey, he wrote one-act plays at night.
After graduating, he entered the executive training program at Bloomingdale’s, but he still hoped to pursue something creative, so he found a copywriting job at the Biow Agency on P&G’s Lava Soap.
Within three years, he was a senior vice president on P&G brands. When the Biow Agency closed in 1956, P&G gave their roster agencies a short list of people at Biow they would like to continue working with. Grey had just won its first P&G assignment and Meyer joined.
While he retired from advertising, he continued on in business by becoming chairman of Ocean Road Advisors, Inc., a family office that invested the funds of the Meyer family entities. He was also on the board of Overseers of Weill Cornell Medical College.
Meyer’s family is organizing a public memorial service at Central Synagogue in Manhattan for the evening of Saturday, April 15 at 6:00 p.m.