Rethink solidifies its succession plan with new leadership team

As its co-founders step away from the day-to-day, new national leaders and a limited partnership model will ensure the agency's long-term independence.



Rethink has named a new leadership team and transitioned its business structure to ensure long-term continuity, independence and a standard of work.

The leadership shuffle solidifies the succession plan for Rethink founders Tom Shepansky, Ian Grais and Chris Staples, who will no longer be involved with day-to-day operations but are forming a board of trustees, handling bigger picture items like the governance, oversight of the business and expansion.

To replace the co-founders’ roles, Rethink has established a five-person national leadership team from its existing group of managing partners. CCO Aaron Starkman, COO Caleb Goodman and CSO Sean McDonald have had their roles expanded outside of Toronto to be national in scope. Leia Rogers (ECD in Vancouver, who has had managing partner duties added to her title) and Alex Lefebvre (managing partner, business in Montréal) will also be on the team to ensure all of the agency’s offices are represented.

In addition to Rogers, Morgan Tierney in Vancouver, Mike Dubrick in Toronto and Nicolas Quintal in Montreal have also been promoted to managing partner and ECD in their respective offices. Joel Holtby has also had head of art duties added to his title in Toronto.

The leadership changes come alongside a change in business structure, with Rethink’s founders transitioning the company from a corporation to a limited partnership. Its shares, which are held in trust, cannot be bought or sold, ensuring the agency remains independent and can stick to its goal of never selling to a multinational network or holding company.

The agency’s ownership group now also includes CD Dhaval Bhatt and group strategy director Stacy Ross, who have joined a team of partners that now numbers 21 across Canada.

According to Shepansky, the new model builds off the succession plan Rethink has been thinking about for some time. The plan consists of, among other things, the founders taking a step back to allow other leaders to emerge, eventually departing once the agency delivers on its value and can be financially strong for years to come. Shepanksy adds that the founders will participate in continued profit-sharing throughout the agency going forward.

“You’ve seen the independents in this country, and in other countries, over the years grow, get successful and sell. I’m not opposed to that, but I’d say our view is there is a better way,” Shepansky says. He adds that in approximately 17 out of the 21 years of Rethink’s existence, the agency has experienced growth, primarily due to its philosophy.

Aside from ensuring Rethink “stays independent forever,” Shepansky finds the limited partnership structure better for the kind of business the agency wants to maintain– having a team of partners ensures an investment in the agency’s mission from its leadership. Even if partners come and go, that makes it “much easier to have an evolution.”

Shepansky references Rethink’s origins in wanting to recreate the kind of culture it had seen in Vancouver agency Palmer Jarvis before it merged with DDB Worldwide in 1998. “It allows you to really lead with your values – put people first and focus on good work. What it allows you to do is really run a business based on your values [of] treating people well,” Shepansky says.

An incorporated company with shares can be difficult to transition, due to share valuations and shareholders to account for. “A corporation and a share structure is kind of set up to build to value and to sell – a partnership structure and the new limited partner structure with a trust is something that will be structured for the long term,” Shepansky says.