Through The Glass Ceiling


David Ogilvy used to say: "The consumer is not a moron; she is your wife." Maybe the legendary adman should update that aphorism: "The consumer is not a moron; she's running your ad agency."

On Apr. 9, Charlotte Beers became chairwoman and chief executive officer of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, the shop Ogilvy founded in 1948. Her appointment to one of America's preeminent advertising agencies easily makes Beers the most powerful woman on Madison Avenue. In fact, this 56-year-old Texan is on the way to becoming a legend in her own right.

Ad executives are still buzzing about Beers's highly public job search, which began in February, when she resigned as CEO of Tatham RSCG, a midsize Chicago agency. Wooed by two of the world's biggest marketing conglomerates, Saatchi & Saatchi PLC and WPP Group PLC, she opted for WPP subsidiary Ogilvy, because of its lustrous creative heritage.

How did the leader of a solid but creatively unremarkable shop become the industry's most sought-after executive? Colleagues say Beers's reputation for handling clients is nonpareil: Billings at Tatham quadrupled in her 10 years as CEO, where she was a favorite of such marketers as Procter & Gamble Co. "Her great strength is in understanding the client's needs," says William B. Connell, a former P&G vice-president who worked with Beers.

DRAMATIC FLAIR. That may be just what the nation's fourth-largest agency needs. Ogilvy's reputation for client service has recently been tarnished. With painful losses, such as American Express Co.'s charge-card account, Ogilvy's revenues declined 5% in 1991, to $785 million, on billings of $5.4 billion.

Beers hates being referred to as a client handler. But she acknowledges that she has focused more on nuts-and-bolts marketing than on creative issues. At Baylor University, Beers majored in mathematics and physics. She began her career in 1960 as a brand manager at Uncle Ben's Inc., where she launched its long-grain and wild rice varieties. Beers's glamorous style and penchant for drama seemed tailor-made for advertising, and she moved to J. Walter Thompson Co. in 1970.

At JWT, she was one of the first female account managers assigned to Sears, Roebuck & Co. She impressed skeptical executives when, during a meeting, she nonchalantly disassembled a Sears power drill while explaining a new marketing plan. Beers thinks women such as herself have succeeded in advertising because the industry values expressiveness: "advertising revolves around laughter and energy and wit," she says. "Women are comfortable with those things."

Laughter and wit are in short supply at Ogilvy these days, and Beers's first task is to bolster sagging morale. "She has to make people believe the agency is not dead in the water," says John Doig, a former Ogilvy executive. Her charismatic style should be a tonic. But unlike at Tatham, Beers has to inspire the troops in 281 offices across 58 countries. Just the kind of task that becomes a legend most.

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