Wunderman Thompson Health has put into place a leadership succession plan. Longtime agency head Becky Chidester will retire and leave the agency in early summer, with current leader, WPP global health community and global client leader, Johnson & Johnson, Patrick Wisnom set to replace her as global CEO.
Chidester and Wisnom shared the news with agency leaders and top brass at parent Wunderman Thompson earlier this week. The rest of the company was informed at a town hall meeting today.
“I have three decades of experience with WPP and Wunderman Thompson and I’ve accomplished much of what I personally wanted to accomplish. We’ve built this healthcare business from the ground up,” Chidester said. “Now is the time, because the organization is particularly strong – great clients, terrific capabilities, tighter integration with Wunderman Thompson. Once you hit that point of success, you look at somebody who can bring in a fresh perspective and new energy, and take it to another level.”
Wunderman Thompson Health has thrived under Chidester’s leadership, growing revenue from an MM+M-estimated $100 million in 2014 to an estimated $170 million in 2020, according to the MM+M Agency 100. She was in the driver’s seat when WPP merged sibling agencies GHG and J. Walter Thompson Health into Wunderman Health to create Wunderman Thompson Health, a move that established the unified company as one of the agency world’s few true do-it-all organizations.
“The exciting thing about Wunderman Thompson Health is that there’s no more complete offering in WPP,” Wisnom said. “We have technology, data, patient experience, HCP experience, creative, consulting … We have clients on the hospital side and in insurance and pharma and technology and animal health. When I think about what I’m here to do, I think, ‘Where else can anybody create more value for clients than here?’”
Which is to say: Don’t expect huge changes at Wunderman Thompson Health anytime soon. Indeed, the degree of professional and personal warmth between Chidester and Wisnom should facilitate a friction-free succession.
The pair has worked together for some time, dating back to Wisnom’s time in Europe leading a big portion of the agency’s GlaxoSmithKline business. “I met Becky, I believe, in a restaurant in Berlin,” Wisnom recalled with a laugh. “We had a really meaningful conversation, and I was struck by how much we talked about everything other than work.”
“I’m incredibly humbled by the opportunity to take on all that she has achieved and build on it,” he added.
As for Chidester’s future, she plans to “take time to do some things that are rich and rewarding on a personal level,” including a bucket-list trip from Long Island to Maine on her sailboat. Only then will she explore the professional opportunities, including those in and around WPP, open to her.
When Chidester was asked what she’ll miss the most during retirement, Wisnom responded for her: “If you don’t say Patrick…” After a laugh, Chidester referenced the “commitment to a higher purpose” that bonds Wunderman Thompson Health’s people.
“I really do feel that we are united in our passion around empowering people and getting them better access to the right information about their health,” she said. “It’s a commitment not just to making money and winning pitches, but to feel that together we are working to improve people’s lives. That united passion is something I will miss.”