Fred Cook moving upstairs as Golin opts for 'CEO+' structure

Jon Hughes, Matt Neale, and Gary Rudnick will become co-CEOs of the Interpublic Group firm, effective January 1, 2017.

Incoming Golin CEO+s Jonathan Hughes, Gary Rudnick, and Matt Neale, and chair Fred Cook.
Incoming Golin CEO+s Jonathan Hughes, Gary Rudnick, and Matt Neale, and chair Fred Cook.

CHICAGO: Fred Cook is stepping down as CEO of Golin at the end of this year and will be replaced by three senior executives at the Interpublic Group firm in a so-called "CEO+" model.

Cook will become the agency’s chairman and continue his role as director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Public Relations at the Annenberg School. Cook has increasingly split his time between Golin’s headquarters in Chicago and California; he will visit the latter more often now.

Jon Hughes, Matt Neale, and Gary Rudnick will share enhanced chief executive responsibilities, reporting to Cook and IPG CFO Frank Mergenthaler. All changes will take effect on January 1, 2017.

"We know there will be some skepticism about how it will work," said Cook. "It’s different, but we’ve always prided ourselves on doing things differently."

As chairman, Cook will be responsible for maintaining key client relationships, inspiring Golin’s people, and driving agency reputation. He has been with the IPG firm since 1986, serving as CEO since 2003.

Cook said the idea of having three CEOs is designed to draw on the specialized skill sets, expertise, experience, and passions of Hughes, Neale, and Rudnick.

The trio will report to Cook on issues relating to clients and people and to Mergenthaler on agency performance and financials and acquisitions.

"We’ve been planning this for several years," added Cook. "These are three of the most talented leaders in the PR industry, and I always thought it would be best if all three of them were engaged with Golin for the rest of their careers."

Hong Kong-based Hughes will act as CEO+International, focusing on building the agency’s global footprint and managing global practices and partnerships, along with his existing regional responsibilities as president of Asia.

Neale will serve as CEO+Vision, overseeing new products, thought leadership, and agency reputation, in addition to his existing regional responsibilities as president of EMEA and co-president of New York.

Cook noted that Hughes and Neale grew Golin’s London office from nowhere to being the firm’s number one location in record time.

"New York [where Neale is now based] is Golin’s fastest-growing office," said Cook. "They’re all great friends and have a great working relationship."

Rudnick will become CEO+Operations, leading business aspects of the agency such as finance, human resources, and client management, as well as maintaining his existing regional responsibilities as president of the Americas, based out of Chicago.

"They won’t be doing the same job," added Cook. "They all have distinct responsibilities tailored to what they’re good at and passionate about."

Al Golin will continue in his role as founder, and Ellen Ryan Mardiks will continue in her role as vice chairman and president of the firm’s consumer marketing practice, reporting to Cook. Golin has 50 offices around the world; it is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

The other members of Golin’s executive board are chief creative and community officer Caroline Dettman, CFO Brian Beck, president of global corporate communications Scott Farrell, president of the global healthcare practice Sarah Matthew, and global digital practice leader Jeff Beringer.

Dettman will be "aligned" with Neale – Cook said Golin doesn’t use the phrase "reports to" – Beck will be aligned with Rudnick, and Matthew and Beringer will be aligned with Hughes.

"While Gary, Jon, and Matt are white males, the company’s leadership team overall is fairly balanced. Thirty percent of our executive board and 50% of our MDs are women, including our vice chairman and our chief creative officer," Cook said. "That being said, our goal is to be the most progressive agency in the business, and diversity is a top priority for our new leadership team."

In 2011, Golin launched an agency model dubbed "g4," completely restructuring the traditional model from being a hierarchy of generalists into communities of specialists. The model took time to bed in, but in the last two years, the firm won several high-profile accounts, including AOR assignments for Humana and Crayola, and made noteworthy hires, such as Dettman and Neal Flieger, from rivals such as Edelman.

Golin’s holding company, Interpublic Group, reported last week that its CMG division, which houses PR firms such as Golin and Weber Shandwick, grew 2.8% organically year-over-year in the second quarter.

Cook said Golin is "on track" for the year, with "some offices doing better than others."

"We’ve won a ton of new business in New York and made some high-profile hires," he added, but declined to be specific.

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