No Commercial Breaks

Smart and driven, Renetta McCann heads one of the nation's leading media companies


McCann identifies with all of them. “There was no road map in front of me. Over time I had to figure out how to build informal support networks of people who were willing to share information. To a large degree a lot of my support came because I always did my best.”

McCann received what she calls mentoring by proof. “My white counterparts [would receive support] based on going to the same school or coming from the same town. [That] was mentoring by faith.”

But McCann believes all the struggles have been significant learning experiences.

“Whatever I learned about people’s prejudices or behavior has served me extremely well. Some of my peers are mortified because they want to be liked and be members of the club. Well, I’ve had to exist by not being a member.”

After 24 years into her career, McCann is liked, admired, and respected by many in her field.”It was amazing to see the range of people who nominated her — young people, older people, colleagues, as well as people who had previously worked for her and currently do,” says Jennifer Fondrevay, head of the Women’s Advertising Club of Chicago. “Even when I called the other four finalists to tell them who had won, their response was, ‘Oh well, of course.'”

Having championed an arduous climb and ascribing to a Godfather business playbook begs the question: Where are the bodies? “I think you have to be ruthless,” she concedes, “but in my career I’ve been ruthless about doing my job really well and figuring out what it takes to produce excellent products for clients. I’ve also been ruthless about getting where I am by not standing on the backs of others,” McCann explains.

“Being a black woman — and remember for most of the time it was only me — I’m not sure I would have ever been allowed to develop a style that had me leave too many dead bodies. It’s sort of not an option.” Though she is hardly the pacifist, McCann admits that she is determined, opinionated, and stubborn. “Don’t stand in my way,” she laughs. “If I’m coming down the street in a hummer, I’ll at least honk the horn. I’m just pretty clear I have somewhere to go, and I think for most people, as a self-preservation mechanism, will get out of my way.

“Know your enemies well,” she asserts. “That’s what I’ve learned from Don [Corleone of The Godfather]. I’ve got my own weapons. I just don’t necessarily shoot first.”

  • Name Renetta McCann
  • Age 44
  • Ttle CEO Starcom North America
  • Original career goals Law, PR
  • Degree B.A. in speech, Northwestern University
  • Hobbies Needlepoint, crocheting, knitting, making miniature dollhouses
  • Favorite destinations San Diego, Arizona.”I like sunny, arid places.”
  • Favorite books The Little Prince, novels, mysteries. She owns everything by Walter Mosley.
  • Favorite advertising campaign “Absolut vodka. I like the way they’ve established the brand as an icon.”
  • Biggest professional accomplishment”To be recognized as a leader
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