How do you rescue one of the largest advertising and media services firms in the world from a downward spiral? That is the question Martin Sorrell faced when his London-based WPP Group acquired Young & Rubicam (Y&R) in 2000.
After many years on top, Y&R was starting to lose momentum—and clients. Kentucky Fried Chicken, United Airlines, and Burger King all decided to take their advertising dollars elsewhere. Sorrell needed to stop the exodus, but how? Sorrell decided a fresh face was needed and started a search for a dynamic new CEO to revitalize Y&R. He found such a leader in Ann Fudge.
Ann Fudge was formerly president of Kraft Foods. At Kraft, she had been responsible for the success of the $5 billion division that included well-known brands such as Maxwell House, Grape Nuts, Shredded Wheat, and General Foods International Coffees.
Fudge’s reputation as a charismatic leader who listens was a major issue for Sorrell when he went looking for a new CEO for Y&R. Among the talents, Fudge had to offer was an ability to interact effectively with all constituencies of a consumer business.
Mattel Chairman and CEO Bob Eckert was Fudge’s boss when he was president and CEO of Kraft. Of Fudge, Eckert says, “She is equally comfortable with consumers at the ballpark, factory workers on a production line, and executives in the boardroom. She could engage all three constituents in the same day and be comfortable. She is very comfortable with herself, and she’s not pretending to be someone else. That’s what makes her such an effective leader.”
Fudge’s commitment to her work and to the people she works with is evident in the lessons she offers to other leaders:
Fudge had a difficult decision to make when she was approached by Sorrell about the position at Y&R. She was in the midst of a two-year break—after 24 years working for corporate America, Fudge had decided to take some time for herself.
She had left her position as president of Kraft Foods in 2001 based not on her dissatisfaction with her job, but on a desire to define herself by more than her career. “It was definitely not satisfied, it was more about life,” says Fudge about her sabbatical. During her two-year break, she traveled, cycling around Sardinia and Corsica; she took up yoga, and she completed the activities in a book called The Artist’s Way at Work—a manual for improving creativity and innovation on the job.
Fudge took on the challenge and has not looked back. In her tenure at Y&R, she has worked hard to get Y&R back on top. She has traveled the globe to visit Y&R employees. She frequently puts in 15-hour days pushing her strategy to focus on clients, encouraging teamwork, and improving creativity.
A major undertaking for Fudge is to bring together the various business entities under the Y&R umbrella to better meet client needs. She’s also trying to institute a Six Sigma method for creativity—looking for ways to increase productivity so that employees have more time to be creative. Fudge’s hard work is paying off. Y&R has recently added Microsoft and Toys R Us to its client list, and if Fudge has her way, the list will continue to grow until Y&R is back on top.
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