President and Chief Executive Officer of Omnicom
Born c. 1952, in New York; married; children: two. Education: Earned undergraduate and M.B.A. degrees from Adelphi University, both 1975.
Partner in a New York-area catering company, late 1960s; co-founder of a T-shirt manufacturing business; manager of a furniture clearance outlet for the Macy's department store chain, early 1970s; management consultant, Arthur Andersen & Co., c. 1975–81; co-founder and manager of Olympic Deck Hockey, 1980–86; controller, Norton Simon Inc., 1981–86; Omnicom Group Inc., began as senior vice president of finance and administration for its DDB Needham Worldwide division, 1986, executive vice president, general manager, and president of its Diversified Agency Services (DAS) division, named Omnicom president, 1995, named chief executive officer of Omnicom, 1997.
John Wren heads Omnicom, the world's largest advertising-agency holding company. As chief executive officer, he oversees a roster of companies which include BBDO, TBWA Worldwide, and DDB Worldwide and represent more than 5,000 corporate clients in around the globe. Wren has earned acco-lades as a deft manager of a vast, 62,000-employee organization, and one who rarely hesitates in moving forward into new methods of reaching consumers. "It's never been important to us," he told Alison Fahey of Adweek about being the top-ranked name in the advertising business. "We've never focused on it. We've never used our acquisition dollars for that purpose. What is important is that we continue to grow the company and invest wisely."
Born in the early 1950s, Wren grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and on Long Island in a Roman Catholic family of Irish heritage; his mother was a first-generation immigrant, and in interviews he has cited her as his lifelong role model and his greatest influence. He began working part-time at the age of 14 for a catering company, and had become a partner in the business by the time he graduated from high school. This entrepreneurial urge would pull him into several other ventures early in his career. His next project was making tie-dyed T-shirts with a friend, which they sold to retail stores in the New York City area that catered to the counterculture crowd; the enterprise eventually racked up sales of $400,000.
Wren pursued a dual-degree plan at Long Island's Adelphi University which resulted in his earning both undergraduate and M.B.A. degrees in 1975. Because he was paying the tuition himself, he took a year off at one point in order to earn money by working full-time, and was hired as a management trainee with the Macy's department store chain. He wound up becoming the manager of a newly opened furniture clearance outlet on Long Island, but his first truly post-collegiate job was with the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, where he worked as a management consultant.
Wren's entrepreneurial itch remained, however, and in 1980 he and a colleague from Arthur Andersen became business partners in a chain of roller-hockey rinks on Long Island and in New Jersey they called Olympic Deck Hockey. "I was just trying to see if I could build a great little business at night while continuing to convince people during the day I had the genius to tell them how to run their businesses," he explained to Noreen O'Leary in an interview for Adweek Eastern Edition. For six years, Wren essentially held down two full-time jobs—one at the office during the daylight hours, and another at the rinks on nights and weekends. In the meantime, he left Arthur Andersen when he was hired by the conglomerate Norton Simon, where he spent five years as a controller, most of them supervising the finances for the car-rental business Avis, one of their companies.
In 1986, Wren moved on to the advertising world when he was hired by DDB Needham Worldwide as senior vice president of finance and administration. The company name reflected the recent merger of two agencies, Doyle Dane Bernbach and Needham Harper. An even larger merger came later that year, when a holding company for DDB Needham and another agency, BBDO (Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn) was created, and dubbed Omnicom. The new entity became the world's second largest advertising-agency company, and its corporate groups held accounts with some of the best-known American brands on the planet, such as Pepsi and McDonald's. In his first years with the company, Wren worked out of its Chicago office and negotiated major international deals with clients.
Omnicom established what it dubbed its Diversified Agency Services (DAS) division, which consisted of several small specialized ad agencies and marketing firms. Wren was named to its executive team, and served as executive vice president and general manager before becoming president in 1992. Over the next few years he turned it into Omnicom's fastest-growing unit.
Omnicom grew even larger in 1993 when it acquired another top agency, TBWA Worldwide, and Wren added another title to his job description when, two years later, he became president of Omnicom. In January of 1997, he was elevated to chief executive officer as well. Though he was considered somewhat of an outsider among the Madison Avenue-agency executive ranks, he quickly proved a popular leader thanks to the relatively high degree of autonomy he granted the various agencies under the Omnicom umbrella. Throughout much of the decade, Omnicom had enjoyed years of stellar growth, with revenues up and its stock a favorite of Wall Street analysts. In 2001, however, the advertising industry was hard hit by recession, with ad spending down at many companies, and the stock market spiraling downward in all sectors as well.
Commended for venturing into the online world with the growth of the Internet and other new media in the late 1990s, Wren sought to find new ways of reaching consumers as the twenty-first century dawned. He and his top executives began to forge partnerships with the entertainment industry, which involved product placement in movies and television shows. One example of this was the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers, in which Jeeps made by one of Omnicom's biggest clients, DaimlerChrysler, appeared in 600 scenes of the World War II-set drama. There was some criticism of this from consumer-watchdog groups, but Wren believed it was one of the smarter approaches to advertising in a TiVo-dominated future, where television viewers would be able to excise commercials entirely. "What happened in the 1990s was the consolidation of this business," he told Gary Silverman in the Financial Times in 2005. "What's going to happen in the 21st century is the evolution of these assets into fully integrated advertising and marketing communications organizations which are no longer simply focused on television commercials."
Wren still lived in Brooklyn until 1993, when he moved his wife and two children to posh Greenwich, Connecticut.
Advertising Age, April 10, 2006, p. 1.
Adweek, January 2, 2006, p. 8.
Adweek Eastern Edition, July 24, 1995, p. 30.
Campaign, January 30, 1998, p. 24; December 1, 2000, p. 32.
Financial Times, March 15, 2005, p. 13.
Fortune, September 17, 2001, p. 145.