Agency leaders could hardly expect to face a more daunting six months than the tempest that was the first half of 2020. Now, imagine the odds of a new CEO actually making significant business headway amid those trying conditions.
Yet for Lori Grant, who was announced as chief executive to Klick Health’s employees in December, the COVID-19 pandemic represented a chance to defy those odds. And defy them she did, said the agency’s former CEO, Leerom Segal.
“She’s just overseen the…most record-breaking nine months in 23 years of being consistently lucky,” said Segal, harkening back to the agency’s founding in 1997. “We didn’t think the growth rate could be even stronger, but that’s precisely what we’re seeing.”
The company initially intended to publicly announce Grant’s promotion in the spring at an event that was scheduled to feature former President Barack Obama as keynote speaker, but had to shelve it due to the pandemic. It’s one of several long-overdue announcements Klick decided to come out with today, from executive hires to new practice launches.
Grant’s December-to-August run would have been all the more difficult, she said, had she not served with the firm for 13 years – the last six as the agency’s president, a role which groomed her for the position and made the transition more of an evolution than a revolution.
“A lot of companies will appoint CEOs from external environments, and in those situations you’re managing different styles and value systems, preferences, biases and norms,” Grant said. “Not to mention that that person needs to come in and prove themselves pretty quickly.”
Grant will continue to report to Segal, who moves to the role of chairman and CEO of Klick Group, which encompasses the agency and software group Sensei Labs, along with newly launched consulting and venture arms. Klick says it accelerated the announcements of the latter two initiatives due to increased market demand and opportunities.
Klick Consulting, led by Keith Liu, managing director, and Alfred Whitehead, EVP of applied sciences, brings together a diverse group of polymaths, from medical and behavioral economics experts to data scientists and engineers, focused on developing commercial solutions able to launch rapidly into the real world.
“Think very agile workflows measured in days and weeks, not months and years, for outputs,” said Segal.
Building on that is Klick Ventures, led by Leslie Jamison, the group’s health innovation-focused venture group, whose high-profile successes include co-founding and incubating Circulation, the company which disrupted the non-emergency medical transportation model.
“We fall in love with ideas where we have a chance to modernize part of the health ecosystem,” said Segal.
The company extended its capabilities further, welcoming 2019 joiner Amy Gomez, PhD, as SVP of diversity strategy to launch a new cross-cultural marketing practice, following her most recent stint with The Neighborhood, a J&J-focused WPP team where she held a similar role, and 2020 hire David Bowen, PhD, a policy and public health ace who joined as SVP of policy and advocacy and who most recently worked at WPP’s Hill+Knowlton, where he was head of health & wellness and chief policy officer for its health & wellness network.
Klick formally announced several other first-half, exec-level hires: Samantha Dolin, SVP, executive creative director, who previously served as chief creative officer at WPP’s Ogilvy Health; Destry Sulkes, MD, EVP, growth, who had been chief experience officer at WPP’s Health Practice; and Jamie Lutzky, SVP, brand strategy, who hails from Publicis shop Razorfish Health, where she held a similar title.
The latest joiners helped drive head count from 948 last year to well over a thousand thus far in 2020, the execs said. Klick Health’s North American revenue increased 20% last year to an MM&M-estimated $345 million, from $287 million in 2018.
And that momentum appears to have continued into 2020, a year which Grant said she saw “as a year of possibility, not a year of pause, even given the challenges that something like COVID puts in front of you.”
Also on the people side of the business, Sue Easby was promoted to SVP of people & organizational effectiveness, and 20-year Klick veteran Glenn Zujew, who Segal called “a great partner in architecting Klick’s award-winning culture,” was appointed as the company’s first chief people officer in December.
It’s a culture that Grant and Segal have honed over the last decade. Her new CEO role, added Segal, is a “clear articulation” of how the division of responsibilities shakes out between the two top executives, with Grant’s time horizon a couple of years hence and Segal’s more future-forward, from people practices to ecosystem investments to new practice areas.
“We recognized a long time ago that there needs to be this healthy tension between the here and now, as well as future-proofing the business,” said Grant.
Segal shared that he had been asking Grant to take on the CEO role for a few years, as she was essentially doing the job, but she didn’t think the time was right.
“Lori was offered this role three years ago and – Lori always being right – wanted to delay a little bit because she wanted to make sure that the organization was ready for it,” Segal recalled. “And in many ways, she wanted to prove that she could do the job that she has been doing. The results from the last few years are testament to that, as are the results from the last nine months, which are key months in our company’s history.”