Leo Burnett grows exec team as Judy John prepares exit

The agency's leadership ranks are expanding as it transforms in step with Publicis Groupe.

exec leadership team

The executive leadership team at Leo Burnett Canada: (bottom row from, left to right) Lisa Greenberg, Brent Nelsen, Natasha Dagenais and Tahir Ahmad; (top row, left to right) Anthony Chelvanathan, Ben Tarr and Steve Persico.

Leo Burnett Canada has expanded its executive leadership team. However, it comes at the same time as the departure of someone who has been the agency’s creative leader for nearly 20 years.

Judy John, CEO of Leo Burnett Canada and CCO for Leo Burnett North America, has decided to leave the company for an unspecified opportunity in “a new discipline” outside of Publicis Groupe, after a transition period. John first joined the agency as CCO in 1999, adding CEO duties in 2011 following the departure of David Moore. In 2016, her CCO role within Leo Burnett was expanded to cover North America.

Lisa Greenberg, previously SVP, CD and head of art, has been named CCO at Leo Burnett, while CDs Anthony Chelvanathan and Steve Persico have had SVP added to their titles as they join the executive leadership team. Tahir Ahmad, VP and director of strategy, has been named SVP and head of strategy, while VP and group account director Natasha Dagenais has been elevated to SVP and head of account management.

They join an executive team at Leo Burnett Canada that already includes Ben Tarr, who was hired as president in June, and Brent Nelsen, chief strategy officer of Leo Burnett North America.

The promotions are not just in response to John’s departure, as Andrew Bruce, CEO of Publicis Communications North America, says they are part of efforts to further establish Leo Burnett Canada as a “creative and strategic centre of excellence” within Publicis Groupe. He says there will be more additions to the leadership team at Leo Burnett in the coming months as part of those efforts.

Over the last six months, Leo Burnett has been delivering against a new business model and team structure to better respond to industry shifts. Bruce could not provide more details about how exactly the model and structure has changed, beyond the fact that they are reflective of what has been happening at the Publicis Groupe level.

“The idea of [Publicis Groupe's] transformation taking place in the form of a creative consultancy is what is driving the shifts and changes we are going through and are involved in right now at the agency level,” says Bruce. “We are a creative entity, and our creative currency remains as strong as ever. How we deploy that creativity is what we are working through.”

Last week, Publicis Groupe released its most recent financial results, which showed revenue growth fell short of analyst predictions. A big reason cited for the performance was reductions in traditional advertising spend, particularly from CPG clients in North America, but said the “Power of One” model – which has been encouraging collaboration across agency brands and markets – has resulted in numerous global business wins. It also said data and technology would be a major investment going forward, as it would give the Groupe the ability to tackle higher level business transformation projects with clients and lessen the impact of declines in traditional ad spend in the future.

Collaboration, data and technology are all factors that Bruce cited as shaping the transformation at individual agencies, like Leo Burnett.

“What we want to do is protect our agency brands and bring in experience horizontally from across the Groupe to ensure they can be the best they can for clients,” Bruce says. “We also have an incredible data platform… so how do we plug that data engine into every agency and every client relationship we have? [Leo Burnett] is already a creative centre of excellence, and when you look at the team that is assembled here, we have a lot of confidence that when they are further bolstered, they are going to do even more amazing things.”