Hill Holiday, the ad agency that handles Dunkin Donuts, Liberty Mutual, Chilis and Bank of America, has named its former receptionist as its new CEO.
Karen Kaplan, 53, started at Hill Holliday in 1982 and has never worked at any other company. She had no formal advertising education, either. But she transitioned to account management and then began a long climb up the corporate ladder inside the agency. In 2001 she was made a managing director of the Boston office and in 2007 she took the title of president.
Business Insider named her the 14th most important woman in advertising in 2012.
As Kaplan tells it, she wasn’t especially keen on working for Hill Holliday in the first place. She just wanted to meet Jack Connors, the agency’s founder, and a “legendary Boston power broker worth hundreds of millions,” according to the Boston Globe.
“I wasn’t so set at working at Hill Holiday or in advertising necessarily,” she told Style Boston. “I intended to go to law school.” Connors interviewed 40 other candidates for the receptionist job.
“My prior work experience included babysitting and waitressing — both of which have come in surprisingly handy. Truly. I’m not kidding,” She told the Globe.
“I’ve had the same 12 jobs everyone my age has had — I just had them all at Hill Holliday. I raised my hand for every opportunity I could get. I’ve run just about every piece of business we’ve ever had.”
She worked her way up to the corner office simply by working hard, she told the Globe:
I just think if you’re willing to outwork everyone else, it’s not very hard to do, frankly. From the very beginning, I thought, “If I work one more hour a day and a couple of hours on the weekend, I’ll pass people who have a 10-year head start on me.”
She also joined a lot of boards along the way.
Being a woman in a world dominated by men has not held her back, she told Style Boston.
Many times I find myself the only woman in a room full of men. I look at that as an advantage. If there are 40 men in a room and they’re all in gray suits and different colored neckties who are they going to remember?
Her appointment comes with an endorsement from longtime client Anne Finucane, CMO at Bank of America, who told Ad Age, “Karen has been a great partner to me for many years.”
As CEO, Kaplan succeeds Mike Sheehan, who had held that title for 10 years. Hill Holiday has an estimated $184 million in revenue.
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