Industry remembers former Burson-Marsteller CEO James Dowling: ‘His impact on the agency is felt even today’

Dowling was the agency’s CEO for four years and helped client Johnson & Johnson through the Tylenol crisis of 1982.

Dowling was CEO of Burson-Marsteller for four years.
Dowling was CEO of Burson-Marsteller for four years.

HOBE SOUND, FL: Former Burson-Marsteller CEO James Dowling died at age 90 last Wednesday. 

Dowling spent 34 years at Burson-Marsteller, now known as BCW

He served in positions including president of U.S. operations, president of worldwide operations and CEO, a role he held between 1988 and 1992. Dowling became chairman in 1992 and chairman emeritus in 1994. He retired from the WPP agency in 1998.

Highlights from Dowling’s tenure include his writing of the firm’s vision and values statement and helping to guide Johnson & Johnson’s response to the 1982 Tylenol crisis

Chris Komisarjevsky, who served as Burston-Marsteller’s CEO from 1995 to 2005, said on LinkedIn that Dowling’s impact on the agency is felt even today. 

“He set a tone for partnership at the firm and a sense of client loyalty that helped make the firm a worldwide leader, both in the U.S. and abroad,” wrote Komisarjevsky.

BCW CEO Donna Imperato said via email that Dowling was "one of Burson-Marsteller’s most beloved and successful leaders."

"He will be remembered not only for guiding the firm’s rigorous standards of excellence but also for a powerful commitment to its people," she said. "Like Harold Burson before him, Jim set an incredibly high bar. We extend our deepest condolences to Jim’s family and everyone who had the privilege of working with him."

Jorge Ortega, senior adviser of growth and U.S. market development at Edelman, wrote on LinkedIn that Dowling “was an amazing leader, visionary, direct and generous.” He added that Dowling always encouraged him to put family first.

“He was a true gentleman and an awesome boss,” said Ortega. “[I] learned a lot about our business and leadership from Jim.”

Jennifer Williams, founder and principal of Communications Insights, wrote on LinkedIn that Dowling, her former boss and mentor, was “one of the most brilliant practitioners in our industry.” 

Dowling was born in Chicago and was a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the recipient of the Li Foundation Fellowship. He served in the Marine Corps from 1952 to 1955 and in 1995 received the John H. Russell Leadership Award from Marine Corps Command.

Dowling served on the executive committee of President Ronald Reagan’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Controls in the Federal Government, also known as the Grace Commission. He was also a trustee of the Hudson Institute and the Wildlife Conservation Society and a partner in the New York City Partnership.

Dowling is survived by his three children, James Dowling Jr. and his wife, Linda Erdman, and his children, Gregory and Maximilian; Kenneth Dowling and his wife, Lauren, and their children, Meghan and Jamie; and Tracy Dufault and her husband, Fred, and their children, Kenny and Julianna. Dowling is predeceased by his wife, Julie Anne Dowling, and his two brothers, Robert and Joseph Dowling.

A private service for family and close friends will be held on February 5, 2022, at Lake Lawn Funeral Home in Metairie, Louisiana. In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes gifts to the Missouri School of Journalism to celebrate Dowling’s legacy. Checks can be made out to the University of Missouri and sent to the Missouri School of Journalism, 103 Neff Hall, Columbia, Missouri, 65211. 

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