In his long career in advertising, David Bell, Chairman Emeritus of Interpublic Group, considers himself fortunate for lucky strokes and great mentors. He’s been CEO of four companies, including two of the biggest holding groups, and has advised both Google and AOL.
He’s worked his way up to the top of the advertising food chain from having started in the Leo Burnett training program without an MBA. “I thought I wanted to be a litigator, but decided at last minute not to go to law school and my dad said to try advertising. I got lucky and was admitted to Leo Burnett training program. It was a great lucky stroke,” he says.
Bell began in the media side, and that was another lucky break, because he found media to be the right fit, even in the early days when it involved spreadsheets, cranking numbers and hand collation of presentation decks. “I fell in love with the media and account management side,” he says.
Along the way, he’s struck relationships with several client mentors who have been vital to his success in the business. They include auto executive giants Lee Iacocca and Bob Lutz, he tells us. “Having had the chance then to work with Lee Iaccoca was a great experience and also Bob Lutz, who transformed two companies and watching those leadership styles was amazing.”
Key to a long-term career though is taking the focus off self, he adds. When asked for his greatest accomplishment, Bell says it was: “Shifting from thinking of myself as an individual performer with talent to an individual igniter of talents.” Learning from the things that don’t work out is key too. Bell points to the consolidation in the business when True North lost Omnicom as a blow.
Despite the highs and lows, Bell remains a passionate advocate of a career in marketing for the right type of person. “Advertising people are fun, fearless and courageous. Take the business seriously but not yourself. ”
This is segment is part of Beet.TV’s “Media Revolutionaries,” a 50-part series of interviews with key innovators and leaders in the media, technology and advertising industries, sponsored by Xaxis and Microsoft. Xaxis is a unit of WPP. Bell was interviewed in New York for Beet.TV by David J. Moore, Chairman of Xaxis and President of WPP Digital.