An End and a Beginning

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  • Date:

    December 16, 2022

An End and a Beginning


In 1993, I joined Wray Ward, already a respected advertising agency, as senior art director. It was the start of a long and rewarding journey that stretched beyond even my wildest dreams. I’m so proud of our people and what they’ve done for our clients and the community.

Now, my chapter as president and chief creative officer is coming to an end: In a few weeks, I’ll step into an executive chair role for the agency.

My decision surprised a lot of people. Many have asked if I’m ready — and I am. I’m excited about the possibilities for Wray Ward and myself, and we’ve taken thoughtful steps to ensure a smooth transition. We’ve grown our business, expanded our services and built an amazing team loaded with exceptional talent. We’ve designed and opened a beautiful new office and studio space. And we’ve prepared for the future by placing it in the capable hands of my friend and colleague, Executive Vice President Kent Panther — Wray Ward’s next president and chief executive officer.

Goodbyes can be hard, but this transition isn’t really a goodbye. Instead, it’s a great time for me to look back over 30 amazing years with excitement and hope for what’s next under Kent’s leadership.

30 Years at a Glance

It’s impossible to put my experience at Wray Ward into words.

First, I never thought I’d work in one place for so long. Time flies when you’re doing what you love with amazing staff and great clients. But I was drawn to this place for a reason. When I became president and chief creative officer, I stepped completely out of my comfort zone, accepting a challenge to uphold and expand what made Wray Ward so special.

Doing what I love, for all these years, for a company I’ve helped shape and mold and hopefully made better? I’m the luckiest person in the world.

When I think about the last three decades, it’s always about the people and the work. The hard times, yes, but also the joy. The milestones and turning points that transformed Wray Ward and its people. Winning business from national brands and earning their trust. Committing to the home and building category. Imagining and building an inspired new home for our team. Using our talents for good. Fiercely protecting our special culture. The latter can’t be measured, yet it has always helped guide and sustain us.

Culture often conveys things like holiday parties, happy hours and hot chocolate bars. And nobody does it better than our chief joy officer and her fabulous committee. But our culture is much more than social activities.

Here, our culture is embodied in the way we lead, work and take care of our people. How we inspire one another. The way we lift up our teammates. Here, “culture” means everyone checks their ego at the door and brings an empathetic and creative mindset to every problem.

Culture means we treat our people like family — and that extends to our clients.

So many of my relationships with colleagues and clients have become friendships. We’ve done amazing work together, and we’ve been there for each other in difficult times, from economic downturns to the untimely loss of people we loved. Challenging times test even the toughest leaders, and I may not have survived them all without help from others.

Everyone at Wray Ward has a hand in shaping our story, but when I think about where we’re going, I think about people like Executive Creative Director John Roberts, the kindest and most creative person I know. John will play an even more critical role as the creative voice of the agency moving forward.

Of course, I also think of Kent Panther. Kent has always been smart and competitive, qualities that served him well in a new business role and will continue to shine when he becomes Wray Ward’s fifth CEO.

I remember when, in 2012, we made the strategic decision to specialize in the home and building category. We owe much of our growth over the past decade to that decision — and to the man who poured himself into the category, who spent endless days and nights on the road while building strong relationships and our reputation in the category. Kent is incredibly aggressive but just as charming, and it’s genuine. He’s one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. Plus, he loves this place.

That’s what makes me feel so good and confident about moving on.

The Right Time for a Change

I experienced the retirement of our co-founder, Bob Ward. And from my first day as president, I understood that when my time came, I’d know.

That time is now.

Wray Ward and this business are at a point where we’re ready for new leadership and fresh thinking. Meanwhile, I will turn 60 next year. I want to channel more of the energy I still have into my community. My daughters have graduated. I want to see the world with my husband, who gave up his career for me so long ago.

A Capable New Leader

Great leaders shine in the face of adversity. Kent has always done that. When our entire industry struggled in the early days of the pandemic, his passion for the work and his propensity for winning new business helped protect this place and its people. His empathy is second to none.

We’ve always encouraged our staff to ask, “What if?” This mindset allows us to think bigger and get better results. In his new role, Kent will also have to ask, “What’s next?” Luckily, he’s always had that mindset. And because of his great reputation and the way he treats others, I know people will feel compelled to join him in that search for what’s next.

Final Reflections

The rapid evolution of this business has kept me on my toes. We have channels, tactics and job titles we never dreamed of even five short years ago. Analytics and performance experts. An in-house production team and on-site studio. Social media specialists operating in a space that’s not only an acceptable way for businesses to connect with audiences but also nearly universal.

Of course, the past several years also included an unprecedented pandemic. The need to protect our special culture while COVID-19 kept us apart. Navigating the construction of Wray Ward’s new office during those trying months. None of it came easily, yet we grew our business and did great work with our clients.

I’m also proud of our resiliency. We’ve bonded together to get through really difficult moments, including the loss of a beloved employee and two young sons who left this world too early. Looking back, I still wonder where I got the strength to persist. But I know I wasn’t alone. We all held hands and supported each other. And we’re stronger for it.

What’s Next

What’s next for Wray Ward? How do we continue to inspire each other and our clients? How do we continue to deliver smart, relevant and highly creative work? How do we elevate our commitment to diversity and inclusion? How do we ensure we use our talents for good in the best possible way? These are just a few of the questions that have kept me up at night over the last few years.

I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know that in 2023, Wray Ward will continue to ask “what if?” under the fearless leadership of Kent Panther. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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