The ‘Transition’ of Irma S. Mann

Founder Sells Majority Interest to President, Takes Advisory Role
BOSTON–After 15 years of building Irma S. Mann, Strategic Marketing into a worldwide travel and hospitality ad specialist, founder Irma Mann has sold her controlling interest to president Gary Leopold.
Leopold becomes sole owner of the 75-person Boston agency. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Leopold, who joined the shop shortly after its formation, was named president in 1992. He now adds the title of chief executive officer.
Mann will continue as chairman and serve as an advisor on strategic and business development issues through November 2000, she said. After that, she plans to concentrate on teaching marketing at the university level and may write a book.
Leopold and Mann first worked together in the early 1980s at Sonesta Hotels. Mann was senior vice president of marketing and Leopold headed corporate public relations.
“This is not a jolt; it’s a transition,” Mann said, indicating that for some time it has been her intention to sell to Leopold.
The move bucks the recent trend for regional agencies of all sizes–from giants such as Arnold Communications and Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, to smaller shops including Cohn Godley Norwood and Pamet River Partners–to sell out.
A sale can mean cutbacks in local employment and “change the personality of a company,” something Mann wanted to avoid, she said.
“There are opportunities to grow in our area of expertise,” and Leopold plans to work on adding a cruise company or airline account and beef up interactive capabilities through new hires, he said.
Leopold pledged to “aggressively” pursue growth in 1999 but said a sale of the agency is not part of his plan. He did not rule out making a purchase of his own but said he prefers adding talented staffers to outright acquisitions. Expanding in the Midwest through the shop’s recently opened outpost in Detroit is also a priority.
Leopold said he is considering sharing equity but did not elaborate.
Irma S. Mann enjoyed one of its best years ever in 1998, adding Sonesta Hotels, the Hong Kong Tourist Association, Massport and the Metropolitan Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The agency’s billings rose 8.2 percent to more than $40 million by the end of last year and now approach the $50 million mark.