Is Jim Heekin ’71 the most important Eph in the advertising world?

Jim Heekin received a very early industry lesson during tackling practice at a South Orange, N.J., football clinic. He and the other kids had to pair off in facing lines, but whenever he was partnered with boys his size or smaller, his father, a Madison Avenue ad exec who was standing on the sidelines, moved him opposite much bigger players.

That sense of competition still serves Heekin well. At a point when his contemporaries are bowing out, the 60-year-old Grey Group chairman and CEO has taken on his biggest adversary yet: the cultural legacy of former longtime head Ed Meyer, an enigmatic autocrat who spent nearly 50 years at Grey and left behind a place in urgent need of modernization.

Heekin, who began at Grey in 2005 as president of the Grey Group’s advertising agency, says his motivation is simple: It’s most likely the last stop in a career that saw him rise quickly through the ranks of traditional U.S. multinational companies like WPP’s J. Walter Thompson and Interpublic’s McCann Erickson.

He now finds himself at the helm of remaking what may have been the most traditional of the lot. At Grey, he’s tearing down walls, literally in its new space, and metaphorically as he dismantles the siloed culture. His goal: to create a creative and digital profile at an agency known for taglines like “Choosy Moms choose Jif.” Predictably, skeptics are doubtful Grey can modernize, but less in dispute is the momentum established over the past two years.

I don’t know enough about the advertising business to offer informed commentary. Help us out Dick Swart ’56!

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