Special Report: Young & Rubicam – Who’s Next? The Lineup In Y&R Inc.’s Executive Suites

A clear succession plan is one of the factors that investors examine in any new public company. Y&R Inc. chairman Peter Georgescu, 58, directly addressed that issue last November by promoting Ed Vick to the long-vacant post of chief operating officer for Y&R Inc. Vick, 53, already holds the positions of worldwide chairman and chief executive for Y&R Advertising and chairman and chief executive for the Y&R/WCJ Partnership, the financial entity that combines the ad agency and direct marketing specialist Wunderman Cato Johnson. The Partnership represents about 65 percent of the parent’s $1.4 billion revenue.
“Vick is one of the rare executives at this level who has strong analytical skills as well as highly developed intuitive and creative abilities,” says Georgescu. “When you get to the majors, it’s tough to find someone who is a brilliant pitcher as well as a great hitter, like Babe Ruth. That’s Ed Vick.”
Vick had been trained at Ogilvy & Mather in New York and rose to president of Ammirati & Puris before trying to save Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver. He had impressed Georgescu when they met in the 1980s during an RCA review. For years afterward, the Y&R executive wooed Vick. “Peter is relentless, like Chinese water torture,” says Vick, laughing.
When Levine, Huntley folded, Vick was finally available. He has been with the company since 1992–a short period compared to the average Y&R veteran. After turning around the San Francisco office of Y&R Inc. brand specialist Landor Associates, he came to New York in February 1994 as president and chief executive of Y&R Advertising. A string of account wins and a flock of talented new hires at the agency gave him the leverage to earn the worldwide post two years later.
While Vick has gotten most of the press, another possible successor is Tom Bell, president and chief executive of public relations unit Burson-Marsteller. Bell, 48, also oversees the Allied Communications group, made up of Burson, Landor and healthcare agency Sudler & Hennessey. The group accounts for about 30 percent of Y&R Inc.’s revenues, and Landor is the fastest-growing unit in the Y&R family.
With plenty of client-handling experience, “Tom is gifted at counseling [clients’] senior managers and helping satisfy the needs of multiple constituencies,” Georgescu says. Dipping into Y&R’s store of military analogies, Georgescu adds that inside the company, “Tom is an old-fashioned platoon leader. He gets the troops up the hill, and he takes no prisoners.”
Bell has been with Burson since 1989, except for a one-year stint in a top executive position at Gulfstream Aerospace. Regarded as Burson’s senior expert on government affairs, he once did campaign planning for President Reagan and served on President Nixon’s staff. Bell’s role in helping the Y&R team gain the consolidated account of Burson client Citibank undoubtedly was a feather in his career cap and helped raise the profile of both Bell and Burson within the company. Last month, he was tabbed as a director of Y&R Inc., joining Vick as the only operating unit executive on the board.
In November, Graham Phillips, former Ogilvy & Mather chief executive, was hired as the new Burson chairman to help the PR firm attract more large global clients. Unofficially, part of Phillips’ job is to groom Bell for a top position at Y&R Inc., say sources. One problem area for Bell: The company had to write off $25.5 million in 1997 for Burson flops in Europe and Asia.
Mitch Kurz is seen as a likely candidate to step into Vick’s shoes if Vick moves up. In December, Kurz took on corporate duties as chairman of client services and vice chairman of Y&R Inc. A 22-year Y&R veteran, Kurz, 46, rose to be chief executive officer of Wunderman, which is regarded as Y&R’s highest-margin unit. Most recently he was president and chief operating officer of Y&R Advertising and the Y&R/WCJ Partnership. His latest role includes overseeing a new breed of senior worldwide account managers who will work across Y&R’s various marketing disciplines.
“Mitch is the kind of strategic thinker who can dissect a client’s business situation and grasp the multiple dimensions of marketing. He’s tomorrow’s type of executive,” Georgescu says.
Among the benefits of the impending IPO will be a stock plan to help keep these and other top Y&R managers from being wooed by generous offers from IPG, Omnicom or other publicly owned rivals, say Wall Street experts. If Y&R hits its financial targets, incentive packages could mean millions for senior executives.
The outside world may see Georgescu as likely to retire a few years after Y&R goes public, but close observers have their doubts. “It is hard to imagine him stepping down,” says a manager who has worked with Georgescu for decades. “What would he do? This company and its clients are his family.”–JV