A Study in Contrasts

Staffers at Lowe & Partners/SMS should expect very different but complementary styles from their two new bosses. North American president Bruce Kelley describes himself as a “velvet hammer,” while president of New York Robert Quish sees himself as a team player.
Kelley, 50, an ad guy straight out of central casting, returns for his second stint at Lowe. His mission is to build the shop into a “full communications company.” One need in particular: ethnic capabilities, particularly to enable the shop to reach Hispanic audiences. That, he said, could be achieved through acquisition or alliance.
Quish, 38, who looks younger than his age, has a reputation for knowing how to strike the often delicate balance between internal and external needs, said sources. The former Ammirati Puris Lintas executive described himself as a “real team-work kind of person. I believe you get a group of great people in a room and you just let the best idea win,” he said. “I guess, I balance that with a fair degree of impatience.”
Quish will no doubt need those skills as he oversees daily workings of the $625 million flagship office here, which has a history of political infighting. Lowe’s former U.S. president, Bob Kantor, exited in a messy departure earlier this year. And former co-chairman Marvin Sloves is being sued by Lowe parent Interpublic Group of Cos. over the loss of the shop’s $125 million Mercedes account.
By dividing the duties of running the agency, chairman and chief creative officer Lee Garfinkel has reduced the potential for any one executive upsetting the balance of power.
“This time around I feel we’ve chosen the candidates that Gary and I really want to work with,” said Garfinkel during a group interview at Lowe’s midtown office. “It’s actually the best time for the four of us to be together without politics in the middle of the whole thing.”
Acknowledging the Sloves and Kantor episodes, vice chairman and executive creative director Gary Goldsmith said, “There was a slight dip in morale … But now it’s back up again and a lot of good stuff is happening. I think the overriding picture is that everybody in this business goes through bumps; it’s how you react to them.”
By choosing the combination of a favorite uncle and a fresh face, Garfinkel is likely to please veteran staffers and newcomers alike.
Kelley previously spent three years at Lowe, rising to general manager before leaving in 1997 to run the National Mall Network. His new challenge: build Lowe’s strengths above and below the line.
“I want to make sure … that the client says, ‘Yep, I’m getting everything I want. Those guys caused all kinds of efficiencies,'” Kelley said.
Quish, who last served at APL as worldwide account director on Iridium, previously was general manager of the then-Jordan McGrath Case & Partners, working on the Procter & Gamble and Quaker Oats accounts.
“He’s a good listener and he understands how to deal with different constituencies,” said his former boss, chairman Pat McGrath. Quish worked well with both creatives and clients, he added, and those qualities will make him an effective leader.
The office, which employs 395 people, is coming off a seesaw year. It won Heineken, Excite and Valvoline but lost Mercedes and Diet Coke.
– with Justin Dini