On 100th anniversary, Grey Group appoints Michael Houston worldwide CEO

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James Heekin III stays on as executive chairman as agency continues creative and economic ascent.

Michael Houston has been appointed worldwide CEO of Grey Group, effective immediately. James R. Heekin III, who previously led the global ad agency network, remains executive chairman. The announcement was made Tuesday, 100 years to the day since the founding of Grey in 1917.

Houston becomes the youngest CEO of a major U.S. agency and the only African-American to currently hold that title. Since joining Grey in 2007, Houston has helped oversee a revitalization of the agency’s creative output and fortunes. In 2016, he was promoted to global president.

"Michael and I have known each other for a decade. I respect him for his personal qualities and business achievements," Heekin said in an internal memo. "It has been a pleasure to watch him grow to become one of our most dynamic and talented leaders. He has an innate ability to bring out the best in people, both his colleagues and clients alike."

Just a decade ago, Grey’s reputation was flagging. Industry gossip claimed the agency’s name suited it. But Houston helped win accounts like Gillette, Volvo, Nestlé, Hasbro, Papa John's, Kellogg's and Marriott, and Tor Myhren, who joined the New York office as CCO at the same time, put Grey back into the cultural conversation, with work like E-Trade’s talking baby and a series of DirectTV spots featuring Rob Lowe.

In 2014, Grey was named Campaign’s Advertising Network of the Year. In the three years since, it has won more than 270 Cannes Lions. This year, it won the global Revlon account and the U.S. accounts of Walgreens and Applebee's.

Myhren left for Apple in 2015, and Houston set about shoring up agency leadership. In December of 2016, Debby Reiner became CEO of Grey’s flagship office in New York, working with Houston to select a permanent replacement for Myhren. In May, the agency announced BBH’s John Patroulis would join as worldwide chief creative officer later this year. 

"I'm humbled to work among such brilliant creative minds," Houston said of Tuesday’s promotion, "and honored to become CEO of this great agency brand at the height of its momentum, with vast potential ahead."