Navigating Success

June 30, 2009

Nancy Hill presented the Heffern Lecture at Mount Union College in October of 2008.

When Nancy Hill ’79 first chose to attend Mount Union College, she had no idea that her decision would serve as the first step on a very interesting journey. Hill is now the president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As), the largest advertising trade association in the country. She credits her broad-based liberal arts education with helping to prepare her for the road that has led to her ultimate success.

Both of Hill’s parents had attended small liberal arts colleges. They wanted their children to benefit from the same educational philosophy and environment that they had been afforded. Rev. Jack Spencer ’50, a long-time member of the Mount Union Board of Trustees, served as the United Methodist minister at the Hills’ church and suggested that they consider Mount Union.

As a student, Hill formed incredible friendships and started to get a sense of who she was as a person. She also gained some unique experiences that prepared her for her journey after college. “Looking back, I now realize I was on a path,” she said, even though she didn’t recognize it at that time. “I have never stopped wanting to be a sponge. I am a student of the world, and I have never, never stopped learning.”

A member of the women’s swim team at Mount Union, Hill was asked by then head men’s swimming coach Larry Kehres ’71 to help coach the men’s team during the women’s off-season. This enhanced her leadership skills and made her comfortable as a female leader in a group of men, an experience that would serve her well in the future. She was also rush chair for Alpha Chi Omega sorority, gaining valuable experience in selling and marketing a sorority, and served on Judicial Board and Panhellenic Council.

“I always loved the idea of studying social issues, trends and group dynamics,” said Hill. In fact, at one point she considered becoming a social worker, an anthropologist or even a lawyer. She enjoyed her Group Dynamics class and credits the Wilderness Experienceas one of her most memorable as a student. “The fastest way to build confidence and become self-reliant is to spend time in the wilderness,” she said.

After graduation, she chose to stay in Ohio, as did many of her college friends. While living in Columbus, she worked three jobs, one of which was with an actuarial firm. “The firm specialized in workers’ compensation for self-insured companies, and recently that knowledge was useful to me at the 4As, where I also serve as head of 4As Benefits, our for-profit subsidiary that provides financial and insurance plans for our members. I think people were surprised that I knew as much as I did about insurance.” This is another example of how her broad base of experiences laid the foundation for her future.

Hill got her first taste of advertising while working as a marketing coordinator at a supplier to the recording industry. “Not only did I learn that I liked the business, I learned how to handle myself,” she said. “I dealt with people fairly and openly and always told them the truth.”

Later, she spent 11 years at Doner in Baltimore, MD and TBWA\Chiat\Day in St. Louis, MO and Los Angeles, CA before moving to San Francisco, CA to lead Goldberg Moser O’Neill, which became Hill | Holliday in 2001. “I thought I was the luckiest person in the world,” said Hill, as she found herself working side-by-side with industry luminaries at Chiat\Day. She soon got past the “star quality,” however, learning from some of the best and brightest and gaining further confidence in herself.

After Hill | Holliday, where she was first president of its San Francisco office and transferred to the New York, NY office, she joined BBDO and served as executive vice president and managing director for New York, where she oversaw several of the agency’s largest accounts. Her professional background is steeped in technology experience from clients such as AOL, Cisco, Microsoft, Motorola, LucasArts, Sybase, Sony and Verizon. She was involved at the start of the dot-com boom in 1996 and stayed with it for the next seven years during the highs and the lows. “It was the million-dollar experience I wouldn’t pay a nickel to repeat,” she said. “It was a wild ride, but it got me noticed.”

Three years after joining BBDO, she went on to serve as chief executive officer at Lowe New York. There, she found herself at an agency that was created as the result of multiple mergers. “There were pieces [at Lowe] that were right and bright and others that were fractured,” she said. Although the agency garnered a wide range of new business under her watch, when they lost their largest client due to consolidation of agencies working for the client, she told her creative partner that they should no longer have a chief executive officer.

Hill had the good fortune of taking some time off to reflect on what she wanted to do next. “It was then that I decided I wanted to get back into public service,” she said. By then, the 4As had been conducting a lengthy search to replace the association’s outgoing chief executive officer. Hill, who was approached about the position early in the process (and declined), decided the opportunity was right. “I contacted the search committee and asked if the position was still available. They had a handful of finalists, but they reopened the job search.”

“When Nancy came on board, it rocked everyone’s world,” said Kipp Cheng, a senior vice president at the 4As. “She came in like a tornado and blew off our dust. Nancy provided a different perspective and has moved the organization into the 21st century.”

“I am not shy,” said Hill. “I’ve always gravitated toward the stuff that no one else wanted to take on, the challenges that had no ‘blueprint.’ That is what defines me as an individual, a professional and as a woman in a heretofore male-dominated industry.”

In San Francisco, she was named one of the “75 Most Influential Women in Business” in both 2001 and 2002 by the San Francisco Business Times. And in 2008, she was named a “Woman to Watch” by Advertising Age. In March, Hill was recognized by the New York Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation as one of their “Women of Distinction.”

Hill has also served on the Board of Directors of the Miami Ad School and led the launch of its New York campus. She currently serves on the boards of the Ad Council, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Advertising Educational Foundation and the National Advertising Review Council.

In addition to many teaching engagements throughout the country, she is actively involved in a community and education program in Ecuador where she has a home. She was part of a group that donated time and resources to help build a school, and she is returning there this summer to work on a similar project in another community.

“It is important for young people to realize that they don’t have to follow specific steps in order to be successful,” said Hill. “Be true to yourself and don’t forget who you meet along the way and from where you came.”

To The Top!