An exit interview with David Moore

Strategy solicits some last words from Leo Burnett Canada’s departing president and CEO, as well as his colleagues.

After 23 years with the agency, Leo Burnett Canada’s president and CEO, David Moore, is hanging up his hat.
It’s been an eventful couple of decades. Moore first joined Leo Burnett’s Toronto office in 1987 as an account executive on 7Up and was soon transferred to Mexico City, where he helped double the Procter & Gamble business in less than three years. He also launched Pampers in Argentina and Brazil, and led the launch of United Airlines in Latin America.
After eight years, he joined Leo Burnett in Chicago as VP, global account director, where he ran the $100 million P&G account. The Winnipeg native returned to Canada in 1999 as EVP, general manager, and was promoted to president and CEO of Leo Burnett Canada in 2004.
Since then, the Canadian agency has become a creative powerhouse, raising its status within both the network and the market in general. By investing in research and bridging the gap between creative and media, Moore has kept Leo Burnett at the top of its game as the agency added accounts including RIM, Bell Canada and Moosehead Breweries.
As Moore steps down on March 1, Judy John will add CEO to her current CCO title. Dom Caruso, former president and CEO at BBDO Canada, has also joined Leo as its new president and COO.
Strategy caught up with Moore for an exit interview on one of his last days at the helm.

In an industry where agency-hopping is the norm, you’ve spent 23 years at Leo Burnett. Why?
This agency has always had a strong culture around its people. I felt at home here as soon as I started. They also afforded me a lot of opportunity. I spent 10 of those 23 years in our global network in Latin American, in Mexico City, and then in Chicago, so I felt like I was doing something new all the time.

Do you remember your first day?
I had spent two years at Vickers and Benson and the president of the agency wouldn’t even know my name in the hallways. On my very first day at Leo Burnett, in 1987, Tony Houghton, the CEO, came into my office just to personally welcome me and say how thrilled he was that I’d joined the agency. When he walked out of my office, I remember being awestruck that I’d spent more time with [the CEO] on my first day than I had in two years at the other agency.

Two and a half years after joining Leo Burnett, you were transferred to Mexico. What was that like?
Those days Hong Kong was booming and everybody had said, ‘Be prepared to go to Asia,’ and so I had in my mind that I was moving to Hong Kong. But they said, ‘No, we want you to take a look at Mexico City.’ I knew very little about Latin America, but when I went down to Mexico City, I fell in love with it.
It was a great time to be in Mexico, in the early ’90s. There were expats from all over the world, both on the agency side and the client side, and it was sort of like the Wild West. All of our clients’ businesses were growing, salaries were growing, everything was growing.

What was your most memorable project?
One of my biggest challenges was launching Tampax in China [as the global account lead while in Chicago] when they had never seen a tampon before. Just think of that marketing challenge, when you’ve got close to a billion women saying, ‘Exactly what do you want me to do with this product?’
[We tackled it] through educational programs in villages, setting up programs to educate women on the possibilities of this kind of a product. I have to say it’s one of the most fascinating cases I’ve ever worked on – just intellectually challenging.

Lance Saunders from DDB mentioned that early in your careers at Leo Burnett, you repossessed some cars together…
Oh my God, that’s right! It was a promotion for 7Up and you could win a Cobra Kit car. We had commissioned someone up in Barrie to build these Kit cars. Well, he wasn’t delivering them, we had paid him upfront and we had these sweepstakes winners who had no car. My boss in Toronto said, ‘You go up to Barrie and you see how he’s coming along and get that production line in gear!’ Finally, we had to go up there and repossess the cars.

What’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of?
It’s threefold. Consecutive years of growth even through the recession is something that I’m proud of. Our creative reputation I’m exceedingly proud of – the fact that we’re consistently one of the most creatively awarded and recognized agencies in the country. And I’m really proud of the environment that we’ve built and our ability to keep people.

How has the industry changed since you started?
When I started in the business, there were clearly rules of engagement, the blueprints were all set. In the very simplest of terms, it would be, “Let’s find what differentiates our product vs. another product, why are we better and let’s do a 30-second ad and run it for 52 weeks and we’ll watch our sales increase.” There’s no longer a blueprint, just a very fluid array of channels available to us that we may or may not be able to harness. It’s a dramatically different industry but one that’s more exciting now than it’s ever been.

What words of advice do you have for Dom Caruso and Judy John, as they take on the respective responsibilities of president and CEO? 
Never forget that tingle you get at the back of your spine when you see a great ad or concept for the first time. Never lose sight of what that means. Anybody who loves great work and nurtures great work ultimately is successful in this business – that’s the only formula there is.

What are your plans now that you’re leaving Leo?
I’m going to Rio for a month, to sit on the beach in Ipanema. I’ve got a couple of different projects and opportunities that I’m considering. None of them would be a full-time, corporate, 9-to-5 type of thing.
It’s just an opportunity for me, after all these years, to focus my priorities on my own personal and professional agenda and create something new for myself.

Any last words?
One of the things I’ve most valued in my career is my partnership with Judy John.  We started working together about eight years ago and we’ve never looked back. When you’re very much in sync, good things come out of that.


Tales from the trenches

“Twenty-four years ago, David walked into Leo Burnett to work for me as an account executive on 7Up and Pepsi. He arrived a nervous young guy with a funny laugh and now leaves a swaggering, distinguished man – still, thank God, with the same laugh.
Back then, before the internet, you had to talk face to face to find out what was going on. From day one, I spent all my time trying to find him. David never did business just sitting at his desk: he would roam around, he was always in the nooks and crannies of the client’s office and the agency, even across the street at the competition. He spent his time cementing relationships, finding out everything there was to know and training everyone to say ‘David was just here – he went that way.’”
Judy Flanagan, chief planning officer, Young & Rubicam and YR Brands Canada

“While I’ve never had the pleasure of actually working with David, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of having him on our boat, cruising with friends under the early morning stars in Muskoka, when he broke out with his heartfelt, out-of-tune knowledge of every word to Cat Steven’s Tea for the Tillerman CD that was playing at the time. It was one of the most memorable live performances any of us had ever seen.”
Bill Durnan, strategy and creative council, Joe Jackman Brand

“In the 10 years we’ve been in business, we’ve never been able to recruit a single Leo person away because they are so loyal to David. In an industry marred by high turnover, David has done a spectacular job building a culture of loyalists. Oh, and he’s the only guy I’ve served with on the ICA Board of Directors who seems to be getting younger looking as time goes by – I wish him good riddance!”
Arthur Fleischmann, president, John St.

“David is dedicated, hard working and happy to accommodate requests when he can. A few years back, David did get a very interesting request from the VP of marketing at Kellogg’s at the time, Guillermo. He called David and asked if he had a suit jacket at the office that day. Luckily – actually, no luck involved, as David always looks amazing – David had a suit jacket with him. Later that day, he was the best man at Guillermo’s last-minute wedding at City Hall. (He was being transferred back to Mexico and decided to get married just before he left.) Truly a full-service agency man!”
 –Carol Stewart, president and CEO, Kellogg Canada

“David has always maintained the same calm, cool and collected persona, even under the greatest pressure. We used to joke that he was like John Kennedy. You always saw him perfectly coiffed in every single picture. I skied with David and it could be 20 below with the wind howling on the chairlift and there’s not a hair out of place. He’s got the perfect ski outfit on, he’s got the perfect pair of sunglasses.
We had many fun times drinking through various bars in Chicago, staying up all night and showing up to a breakfast meeting at 7 a.m. While I looked at myself in the mirror and was scared to see the sight that I had become in the last 12 hours of drinking, he looked fresh as a daisy.”
Lance Saunders, EVP, managing director, DDB Canada