Jennifer Appleby To Become Executive Chair, Names Kent Panther President and CEO

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    Agency News

  • Date:

    September 14, 2022

Jennifer Appleby To Become Executive Chair, Names Kent Panther President and CEO

Agency News

Jennifer Appleby, Wray Ward’s longest-serving president and chief creative officer, has announced plans to step into an executive chair role for the agency, exiting day-to-day agency management and appointing Kent Panther as Wray Ward’s next president and chief executive officer. Appleby and Panther will assume their new posts in January 2023.

The transition provides Appleby with a path to retirement from the advertising industry to which she has dedicated her career. She started in the industry 37 years ago and has been with Wray Ward for 30 years, including 21 years as its president and chief creative officer. Entrusting Wray Ward’s future to Panther, who is currently executive vice president, is the actualization of a succession plan and ensures the agency’s continued leadership in the home and building category, commitment to creativity and client service, and preservation of its unique culture.

“Wray Ward has been an extraordinary home for me for 30 years, and I am incredibly proud of the work we have done for our clients and the community,” said Appleby, who led the agency to unprecedented growth and dedicated community service under her leadership. “I feel the time is right for me to explore what’s next for me beyond the advertising industry and for Wray Ward to flourish under new leadership. I am confident that I am leaving this agency, its talented staff, and the amazing clients and brands we have the privilege to work with in exceptional hands with Kent Panther.

“No one understands Wray Ward’s special culture, evolving business, and the home and building category better than Kent, and his leadership will guide the agency into an exciting and bright future,” she said.

Panther, who has three decades of advertising industry experience, oversees client engagement, project management, resourcing and business development to foster better connection between critical client acquisition, service and delivery areas. He joined Wray Ward in 2004 as head of insights and brand strategy, and he played a key role in the agency’s evolution to specialize in the home and building categories in 2011. He next took on leadership of the agency’s business development, and he has grown Wray Ward’s relationships with brands including GE Appliances, LEVOLOR, Sonos, Stanley Black & Decker and Sunbelt Rentals.

A firm believer in insights-based strategies and data-driven solutions, Panther formed close partnerships for Wray Ward with research groups and industry associations including the American Institute of Architects (AIA), The Farnsworth Group, the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI) and the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence, providing the agency and its clients with depth in category, consumer and customer research, behaviors and trends.

“I’m humbled by the opportunity to lead this world-class team of people I respect so much,” said Panther, referring to the more than 175 team members who make up the Charlotte, North Carolina-based integrated marketing communications agency. “Our future includes a continued commitment to the outstanding creativity and better-performing work that our clients depend on and our employees embody. The agency’s collaborative culture and incomparable ability to have fun while doing great work is in my blood, and I’m thrilled to lead this dynamic company into our next chapter.”

Prior to Wray Ward, Panther was founder and president of Incite Communications, a strategic marketing agency in Charlotte. He also held posts at several agencies where he worked with brands including McDonald’s, Michelin, Lowe’s and more, providing strategic and account planning services. In recent years, Panther has shared his expertise with myriad organizations. He has been invited to deliver insights to marketers and researchers at venues and events including the American Home Furnishings Association, the Hardware Marketing Council, HIRI, the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), the Housewares Show, AIA and the Charlotte American Marketing Association.

A longtime community volunteer, Panther has served in a variety of roles for local nonprofits and industry organizations. He serves as a global connect advisor for NKBA and is on the advisory council of The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs. He served on the boards of directors for Classroom Central, Anuvia Prevention & Recovery Center, Charlotte Chamber Center City Area Council (now Charlotte Regional Business Alliance) and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeast Indiana. He also served on marketing committees for the Arts & Science Council, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont and The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte. Additionally, he has helped organizations with their strategic planning through pro bono training and skill sessions, including Teen Health Connection, United Way Legacy Foundation, Young Black Leadership Alliance, Anuvia Prevention & Recovery Center and The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Charlotte.

Panther’s volunteer service reflects Wray Ward’s commitment to community, a spirit of giving back that Appleby boldly infused into the agency’s culture during her tenure.

Appleby joined Wray Ward in 1993 as senior art director. She was promoted to executive creative director in 1995 and senior vice president in 1998. In early 2001, she was named president and chief creative officer. Appleby’s vision guided the agency through a strategic repositioning and reorganization, and the agency that was founded as a traditional advertising agency in 1977 today offers critical brand-building functions across more than a dozen service areas. She recently oversaw the design of the agency’s innovative new space in Charlotte’s emerging FreeMoreWest area and a transition that brought the agency’s office, collaboration and community spaces, and production studios under one roof for the first time.

Her contributions of time and leadership have touched virtually every corner of the community, including arts and culture, human services, economic development, business leadership and education. She serves on the Charlotte Executive Leadership Council and has chaired the board of directors for the Arts & Science Council and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She has served on the boards of directors and executive committees for Charlotte Regional Business Alliance and Charlotte Center City Partners; served on the Public Art Commission and boards, committees and advisory councils for organizations including Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, McColl Center, Central Piedmont Community College Foundation, Johnson & Wales University, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont and United Way of Central Carolinas; and recently co-chaired the Center City 2040 Vision Plan.

Appleby has been recognized professionally for her business leadership, community service and creativity. She received the Charlotte BusinessWoman of the Year Award from Queens University’s McColl School of Business and is a past winner of the Charlotte Business Journal’s Most Admired CEO, Women in Business Achievement and 40 Under 40 awards. She has received the Mint Museum’s Spirit Award, ASC’s Mary B.A. Howell Award and Penn State University’s Arts and Architecture Alumni Award. She also has been named to the Business North Carolina’s Power List.

As executive chair for Wray Ward, Appleby will serve as a business consultant and support the agency’s unique workplace culture efforts, including its EmpoWWer service-grant program and Diversity & Inclusion initiative. She also will continue her own community service and creative collaborations along with traveling and spending time with her husband of 25 years.

“Jennifer’s innovative spirit and impassioned leadership as our president and chief creative officer helped transform Wray Ward into an agency that is nationally recognized for its creativity and locally appreciated for its community service. It is hard to put into words the admiration we have for all Jennifer has done for Wray Ward, and we appreciate her continued support as our executive chair,” Panther said. “In looking ahead, I’m excited to carry the Wray Ward vision forward as we drive toward our 50th anniversary.”

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