Grey transformation man Heekin steps aside as Houston takes over global role


Jim Heekin, in many respects the adman’s adman, is stepping down as CEO of Grey Group, to be replaced by long-serving president (and afro-American for those who care about such things) Michael Houston. Heekin remains executive chairman.

James R Heekin 111 (to give him his full moniker) has effected an amazing transformation at WPP-owned Grey Group since assuming the top role in 2007, overseeing a creative revolution nobody expected in New York with Tor Myrhen (now at Apple) and also in London with EMEA CEO David Patton (now at WPP’s Y&R), London boss Chris Hirst (now Havas) and creative supremo Nils Leonard (who left last year to do his own thing).

Heekin (below, with predecessor Ed Meyer) says: “As we celebrate Grey’s centennial and a decade of record new business growth and creative performance, the time is right for the elevation of a new generation. Michael Houston is one of our most dynamic and talented leaders. This well-deserved promotion will enable us to set the agenda for Grey’s future growth and competitiveness across our global network.”

New CEO Houston (left) says: “As global president, I’ve travelled the world and been inspired by the depth and breadth of talent and creativity across the Grey network. I’m humbled to work among such brilliant creative minds and honoured to become CEO of this great agency brand at the height of its momentum, with vast potential ahead.”

Grey, under long-time boss and Heekin’s predecessor Ed Meyer, was the ultimate safe pair of hands agency, noted for its tenure on Procter & Gamble and pharma giant GSK. Interesting it wasn’t though although it provided WPP with an entry to P&G despite WPP’s substantial Unilever business. Keeping these two content was a considerable feat of account management.

But that’s what Heekin was good at, staying close to clients while also recognising that agencies needed to be creative or they weren’t anything much. Prior to Grey he had enjoyed successful stints at Interpublic’s McCann, which should never have got rid of him, and Euro RSCG (now Havas).

Creatives, above all, need strong account handlers to bat for them and that’s what Heekin was.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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