Y&R N.Y. COO Search Was an Inside Job

John Morris, the new chief operating officer at the New York headquarters of Young & Rubicam, has not spent a day outside the Y&R Group of companies in his 21 years in advertising. And that largely explains his appeal to the office’s CEO and chairman, Michael Patti, a newcomer who joined from BBDO in March.

The new partners are a study in contrasts, from their demeanor to their clothing. Seated in an agency conference room last week, Morris, in a collared shirt and tie, joked that he doesn’t do “dress casual.” Sitting next to him, Patti looked quite comfortable in his signature black T-shirt. “He’s a little softer,” Patti said, laughing. “You need the yin with the yang.”

Patti, who is also worldwide creative director, had been seeking someone who could familiarize him with the history, people and culture of 285 Madison Ave. Also, by appointing an insider, Patti signals that continuity is as important to the shop’s success as the change embodied by him and new worldwide CEO Ann Fudge. Patti consulted with Fudge before naming Morris to the post.

“It’s a partner to me [who will be] taking care of all financial sides of the business,” said Patti. In addition, Morris, 44, will ensure that the accounts at the $1.3 billion office are properly staffed and clients get the services they need, Patti said. That will enable the creative chief to focus on his primary goal: “to take every creative project as an opportunity and make it better.”

Patti considered a handful of insiders before selecting Morris, the managing partner on the North American piece of Y&R’s $500 million global Colgate account. (He retains those duties.)

Internally, this first big management move by Patti was seen as sensible if not safe, given Morris’ tenure and his feel for Y&R and sister direct shop Wunderman, where he was worldwide account managing director from 1996-98. Before Wunderman, Morris worked closely with Y&R’s then-CEO Peter Georgescu as his chief of staff. Morris began his career in 1982 as an assistant media planner on Johnson & Johnson.

“He’s well groomed,” said chairman emeritus Ed Ney. Advertising “really runs through his veins. It’s his world, and he can talk about it so well. But he doesn’t make it flashy.”

As mentors, the mild-mannered Morris cited Georgescu, who taught him how Y&R’s units fit together; worldwide chief strategic officer Stephanie Kugelman, who Morris said exemplifies grace under pressure; and vice chairman Craig Middleton, a senior colleague on Colgate who taught him how to organize resources around clients.

Morris, who grew up in Westchester County, New York, and still lives there, got the ad bug from his father, Jay Morris, a former senior account executive at Foote, Cone & Belding in New York who also worked on the client side (Clairol, Seagram, etc.). The elder Morris used to take his son on shoots, and John still smiles when recalling how he met basketball star “Pistol” Pete Maravich on the set of a shoot for Vitalis. He also chuckles about the irony of a guy with “floppy hair” pitching “the dry look.”

Explaining his loyalty to Y&R, Morris said: “On its best days, it’s a very collaborative culture, and people look out for one another. You always felt like you were part of the Y&R family. I just never had any doubt that this is a place that I could stay for some time.”