Drummy passes the torch at Heartbeat, moves to chairman role

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After founding Heartbeat Ideas and steering it for 19 years, Bill Drummy has handed day-to-day leadership responsibilities to chief strategy officer Nadine Leonard and chief creative officer James Talerico.

Leonard and Talerico will head the agency as co-managing directors, with Drummy sliding into the role of chairman.

Drummy said his decision to back away from an active leadership role was motivated by a pair of factors. After nearly two decades at Heartbeat — during which, you might have heard, the industry evolved just a bit — he simply “wanted something new, wanted more time to do other things,” as he put it. Just as importantly, Drummy had started to worry that his continued presence atop the leadership pyramid could stall the careers of longtime Heartbeat execs who were ready to take the proverbial reins.

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“My staying in the same position might have kept other people with talent from growing,” he explained. “The thing I'm most proud of is that [Heartbeat] has attracted a certain level of talent. It was clear that Nadine and James could run the agency and take it well beyond the level I took it myself.”

The succession process was complicated by two factors. First and foremost, Heartbeat's corporate parents at Publicis Groupe, which acquired the company in 2013, had to be sold on the plan.

“I got a little, ‘Why do we need two [leaders]?,'” Drummy acknowledged. “But in the end, they saw what I saw — that these two have been working together for so long and there's such a high degree of belief in them.”

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He specifically points to Publicis Health's Alexandra von Plato as a key supporter and a sounding board during the transition process.

Also, one cannot understate the amount of admiration and respect Drummy has engendered, both among his Heartbeat charges and his peers in and around the business. The description “maverick” gets thrown around way too often, but in Drummy's case it actually holds true. “He is beloved here. [James and I] do not take lightly the size of the shoes we are going to try to fill,” Leonard said.

Drummy isn't going anywhere. While he stressed that he is “not making strategic decisions about the agency and not going to be day-to-day involved,” Drummy said that he'll continue to interact on a regular basis with clients and serve as Heartbeat's ambassador at industry events. In fact, his client role might even expand: In the last week alone, Drummy has spent time on the campuses of Bristol-Myers Squibb and Genentech. One immediate item for the to-do list: As of yesterday afternoon, the chalk-written sign outside his office door still identified him as CEO.

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Leonard and Talerico inherit an enviable situation. With Drummy pointing to growth of “114% over the last two years,” that'd put Heartbeat revenue in the neighborhood of between $55 million and $65 million in 2016, per MM&M estimates. (Drummy, Leonard and Talerico declined to discuss revenue figures.) Similarly, staff size has surged from 115 in mid-2015 to “well over 200,” according to Talerico. The agency's new midtown NYC headquarters, in a building that houses other Publicis shops, is already straining from the continued growth.

That said, both Leonard and Talerico dismiss the suggestion that sustaining Heartbeat's current trajectory and replacing a highly esteemed leader will prove an intimidating charge. For one thing, both execs have worked at the agency for nearly ten years; they know everyone in the building and were among the primary architects of the agency culture.

“The goal is not to overturn everything,” Talerico noted. “We've got as good a base to build upon as you could possibly want.”

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