The departure of president Tony Houghton from S.F. shop Hal Riney & Partners last week appears to have put the reins back into the hands of its mercurial founder, leaving unanswered the question of a successor for Hal Riney. Riney moved quickly to name David Verklin, the agency’s 37-year-old media director, to the post of managing director and to place himself in the position of president. Verklin, perhaps the first media-bred agency executive to achieve such a post, is considered by peers an able leader, but he does not have the same sweeping authority that Houghton, who is re-joining Leo Burnett Co. as president and managing director of Leo Burnett U.S.A., wielded.
Verklin, along with national creative director Joe O’Neill, evp/corporate development John Yost and Barry Krause, senior vp/managing director of the Chicago office, will report directly to Riney as will cfo Lyn Muegge, though she will have line responsibilities to Verklin for S.F. office matters.
Riney, 61, has been seeking a way to ease himself out of day-to-day responsibilities at the agency, and the appointment in January of the team of Houghton and O’Neill appeared to be a step in that direction. That has not changed, said Riney officials. ‘Tony was earmarked as one member of that team,’ said O’Neill. ‘I would say this company’s plan remains the same: to develop successor management. The cast has changed, but David was always going to be central to that.’
It’s possible that Riney’s re-emergence at the center of the agency’s activities is a temporary one having to do with the recent setbacks the agency has suffered on the new business front, most recently the failure to win the coveted Sears account, despite what some have estimated as an outlay of $500,000 for the pitch.
Then too, like other agencies that have tried to replace a charismatic – if enigmatic – leader with a professional management, the spirit of the agency is somehow lost in the transition. The current agency setup may be a way to groom Verklin, who, insiders said, may ultimately be best equipped to help smooth the transition.
A seven-year veteran of the agency, Verklin built a national reputation for Riney’s media department, all the while creating an esprit de corps among the staffers there that others at the agency envied. ‘He goes out of his way to know everybody,’ said a Riney insider. ‘He’s somebody who really does understand what the company has tried to be. Someone who’s been involved in a lot of the details of building the place.’
‘Everybody, particularly the creative department, loves the fact that David has been made managing director,’ said O’Neill. ‘He’s an advertising guy, not a media guy. He’s got 1,000 kilowatts of energy. He was earmarked for bigger things in this company.’
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)

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