Copithorne quits top post at Porter Novelli

NEW YORK: I always tell people that my children are eight and ten,but the last time I went back to Boston, it dawned on me they are really10 and 12,

NEW YORK: "I always tell people that my children are eight and ten, but the last time I went back to Boston, it dawned on me they are really 10 and 12, said Porter Novelli global CEO Dave Copithorne, explaining why he's quit the job after just five months.

Copithorne, who officially took the top job on January 1, spent nearly two years being groomed to take the CEO role after the agency he founded, Copithorne & Bellows, merged with Porter Novelli. But after more than 200 days on the road in the last year, he has decided to resign the post, return to Boston, and once again build a new business from scratch.

"I guess you could say I'm an unreconstructed entrepreneur," he admitted. "But I also know I want to spend time with my family."

For now, he remains a consultant with PN.

He will be succeeded by Helen Ostrowski, who became PN's president of North America at the beginning of the year, and now becomes the first woman named global CEO of a top-10 agency. In turn, Gary Stockman, who was formerly COO, will succeed Ostrowski. The remainder of the management team, including previous CEO Bob Druckenmiller as chairman, does not change.

Copithorne admitted that leaving after such a short time might be seen as him "making waves," but he stressed that Ostrowski and Stockman are well prepared for their new posts. "In recent years, we have focused on creating a strong, global, full-service agency, and Helen and Gary took a real lead in that," said Copithorne. "It wasn't about me - we have always worked collaboratively, and the whole team is so strong. We have a deep bench at Porter Novelli."

Ostrowski and Stockman, who both came through PN's Harvard Business School-based management training program, vowed to maintain the agency's focus on personal development. They will also be looking to consolidate the firm's public affairs practice and refine other global practices. Strategic acquisitions are a possibility, said Ostrowski, who also anticipated hires in the West Coast healthcare, strategic planning, and corporate counseling practices.

THE GLASS CEILING: SHATTERED

"If Carly Fiorina can run Hewlett-Packard, a woman can certainly lead a top PR agency, predicted one agency chief last September.

Less than one year later - in the same week - not one, but two women have proved him right. Helen Ostrowski has been appointed global CEO of Porter Novelli, whose largest account is, ironically, HP. Meanwhile, Donna Imperato will assume the same role at Cohn & Wolfe in the fall (see story below, right).

Having broken through what was believed to be the last remaining glass ceiling in the agency world, Ostrowski feels it is "only a matter of time

before other women follow in her footsteps by moving into the very top agency posts.

Among those in very senior positions are MaryLee Sachs, CEO of the US at Hill & Knowlton; Marcia Silverman, president of the Americas for Ogilvy; Pam Talbot, Edelman COO; and Loraine Thelian, senior partner/North America for Ketchum.

"As lines based on gender and race begin to disappear, PR will be seen as a field that has an unbiased philosophy,

said Ostrowski.

Porter Novelli's new global CEO can call herself the one and only among the top 10 for now, but women have been running the show at small and mid-size agencies for years. Sabrina Horn, Margaret Booth, Susan Noonan, Dorothy Crenshaw, Melissa Waggener, and Pam Edstrom are just a few of the many women who head up smaller firms.

Dorothy Crenshaw, president of Stanton Crenshaw, who left big-agency life behind because she "saw a faster way to achieve my goals as an entrepreneur,

sees Ostrowski's promotion as an encouraging sign. "Once you see one woman take over a top spot, an invisible barrier is broken, which means that you're going to see it more and more."

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