NEW YORK–Grey Advertising chief Ed Meyer, the longest-running act in advertising, is well aware of the growing speculation about who will succeed him." data-categories = "" data-popup = "" data-ads = "Yes" data-company = "[]" data-outstream = "yes" data-auth = "" >

After Meyer, Grey may play hail to the chiefs By Cathy Taylo

NEW YORK–Grey Advertising chief Ed Meyer, the longest-running act in advertising, is well aware of the growing speculation about who will succeed him.

Actually, Meyer has held three titles: chairman, ceo and president at the $4.3-billion advertising agency since 1970.
In a recent interview with ADWEEK, Meyer said that this is the year he will begin to develop Grey’s management for the future, and acknowledged that as part of recognizing the contributions of some key players at Grey, he plans to relinquish one of his titles.
But whatever Grey looks like in the future, Meyer knows that it won’t– and probably shouldn’t– resemble the organizational structure it has had under his rule. Instead he envisions the shop being run by “a large executive cadre” of people who’ve spent most of their careers at Grey.
“I would like to think an enlightened professor at the (Harvard) Business School would say, ‘(Ed Meyer) can run it that way because he knows it all.’ But it shouldn’t go on that way,” he said.
When asked about whom he would designate to lead Grey in the future, Meyer chooses his words carefully. However, it’s clear that he sees Bob Berenson, 53, executive vp/administration and account management, and John Shannon, 56, regional chairman/ceo Europe, Africa and Middle East and a Grey board member, as the two executives whose complementary leadership roles put them in line to inherit some of the external trappings of power soon.
As Meyer points out, Shannon’s European operation is now almost half Grey’s business. And Berenson, Meyer’s longtime associate, is already considered to be “de facto manager of (Greyl/N.Y.,” and thus as time goes on, Berenson can be expected to “emerge in a more and more important role.”
But Meyer left unanswered what would happen from there and when he would give up total control.
Meyer plans to build a second tier of top management, which will come from the growing ranks of executive vice presidents at Grey. He refused to identify who would be tapped for the more senior level, but acknowledged that a number of veteran Grey executive vice presidents already have people of the same rank reporting to them.
“They’ll have to get recognized for that titularly,” Meyer said. He also cited executive vp/creative services Steve Novick, who quietly took over the reins of the creative department last year, as key to the New York-based ad agency’s success.
However, what makes Grey Advertising’s top management succession markedly different than many of its agency competitors is that even when Meyer leaves–and there’s always the possibility for a contract renewal–he will continue to wield considerable influence as a major stockholder.
As of the 1992 proxy, Meyer holds 20.6% of the common stock, and beyond that the stock is so closely held by Grey employees that one of the oldest jokes in the industry is that it’s necessary to make an appointment to buy a share.
But Grey’s public status relieves it of the burden of buying Meyer out upon his retirement. His common shares alone are worth over $25 million, but he also holds the majority of Grey’s other classes of stock. (Grey shares have increased in value about 23-fold since he took office in 1970.)
“We clearly have a management structure in place and an indicated succession structure that makes me very comfortable with the fact that whatever wealth I have is substantially tied up in Grey,” Meyer said. “And I can leave it behind with confidence that it will be well taken care of.”
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)