What was outside of the box, particularly for a black agency at the time, was Burrell’s focus on developing a succession plan for his organization. In 1996, he began offering equity partnerships to members of his management team and grooming prospective successors. Among them were Fay Ferguson and McGhee Williams Osse. “Out of that management committee, McGhee and I were the ones who had grown up in the company,” says Ferguson.
Today, Ferguson and Williams Osse represent the visionary leadership driving Burrell Communications Group L.L.C. (No. 4 on the be advertising agencies list with $21 million in revenues). The two purchased 51% of Burrell and became co-CEOs in 2004, and set out to write the next chapter of the firm’s history and make it a transformative force among minority agencies vying for the $800 billion African American consumer market. “We were aggressive about new business and organic growth from our existing clients,” says Williams Osse of their strategic plan. “That made more sense. Here were people that knew and trusted you.”
Over the past few years, the two women have redesigned the firm by adding new employees and expanding its client roster. In 2006 Lewis Williams, who had worked with Burrell in the 1980s as an associate art director and then at Leo Burnett Business for 15 years, eventually becoming senior vice president/creative director, was named chief creative director—and business increased by 15%. Since that time they have added more than 20 new clients, including Walt Disney, Supervalu, Lilly, 3M, American Airlines, and most recently Comcast. The firm has also increased business with several existing clients such as Toyota, McDonald’s, General Mills, and Procter & Gamble.
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