An advertising executive’s advancement can be postponed or even completely thwarted by changes in assignments or locations. It is a test of ability and character to be able to move to new companies and new locales and to continue moving up the ladder. John (“Jack”) Fisher has met the test of change, even seeking it out. At every turn, he has risen to the challenge of new circumstances.
He began as a Pfizer representative, working a southern territory out of his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. His hard-working style was recognized, and he moved to headquarters in New York City as a product manager. Next, he switched to the agency side, joining the Frohlich agency as an AE on the Squibb account. When the agency closed on the death of its owner, he went with the group that founded Lavey/Wolf/Swift. He became a key executive at L/W/S and was tapped by management to move to Frank J. Corbett, Inc., a unit of Omnicom’s healthcare network, to take over from Frank Corbett, who was approaching retirement. He was to spend 19 years in this post, making a name for himself in the industry and drastically changing the character and scope of the agency. While heading up Corbett, he also assumed corporate responsibility for Omnicom’s HMC unit—a group of eleven healthcare companies.
It has been a career that has taken Jack from detailing in the rural South, to the demanding home-office environment of a top-flight Rx company, to the pressured marketing and creative work of medical advertising in New York, to the formidable executive task of heading up one of Chicago’s landmark ad agencies, to a position of oversight in a diverse network of medical communications units. For Jack, it has been a life of changing scenes bringing steady personal growth and success.
A quality that has identified him and propelled him in this career is his remarkable energy. Jeff Marsh, who was his client at the Westwood division of Bristol-Myers Squibb, recalls, “In creative sessions with Jack, you could just feel the energy. He can talk at 100 miles an hour. But Jack’s mind always went at 300 miles an hour.”
Others describe his “drive.” Frank Corbett explains, “There are cities in the world that vibrate—Paris, London, New York. Unfortunately, Chicago doesn’t vibrate. It’s a solid city that makes a lot of money…Well, when Jack came to Chicago, it began to vibrate.”
This energy was channeled through Fisher’s personality which, fueled his compelling drive, could take on an aggressive tone at times. This almost prevented him getting his big chance in Chicago. As Frank Corbett tells it, he approached John Swift of L/W/S, who at the time at Omnicom oversaw the Corbett operation, for someone to move to Chicago to replace him when he retired.
“Who is your best man?” Corbett asked.
“Jack Fisher,” Swift replied, “but he wouldn’t fit in Chicago. He’s too aggressive.”
Corbett says, “My reaction to that was simple. I told Swift, ‘We can take the aggression out of him…’. It took many months before Swift stopped giving me evasive answers…He didn’t want to lose his best man! But, he relented. He didn’t want to stand in Jack’s way, and out he came.”
Jack Fisher pairing with Frank Corbett was a contrast in personalities. Corbett, a transplanted New Yorker, had been successful in the Midwest based on his marketing experience and his low-key cultivation of personal relationships. Fisher, a high-pressure Southerner, tempered in the Rx wars of the East Coast, was strong on market strategy and the discipline of integrated media campaigns. Their styles and talents were different but complementary, which strengthened the agency. Most importantly, both men were strongly positive in outlook. They brought an infectious zest to the creating of Rx advertising and marketing that became their common ground.
Once Fisher settled in, the agency’s product and internal operation changed, and its scope expanded beyond its Chicago base. Billing grew dramatically, going from $18 million in 1977 to $65 million by 1987; the advance continued into the 1990s. During his time at the helm, the agency created campaigns for such major products as Augmentin, Xanax, Halcion, Synthroid, Relafen, Axid, Humalin, and Cozaar/Hyzaar.
One of Fisher’s abilities was his capacity to teach the business to junior executives and product managers at the client and at all levels at his agency.
Scott Cotherman, who took over the leadership of Corbett when Jack retired, says, “He had a wonderful knack of not only identifying talent, but developing it to be very, very strong. Corbett became the training ground for healthcare advertising in the Midwest. There are four agency presidents today in Chicago who were mentored by Jack Fisher. I don’t know whether to thank him for that, or punch him in the nose, because the competition is quite fierce.”
After almost 19 years as president/CEO of Corbett , Fisher retired in 2000. When he arrived, the agency had a Midwestern clients base. When he left, the agency resources and experience had expanded and it was serving clients well beyond Chicago. In fact, one of Fisher’s major accomplishments was overcoming the company mergers that caused a migration of its Midwestern Rx clients to the East Coast. Once again, Fisher had shown that he could meet the challenge of change. By dint of his hard work and his recruiting and training, the Corbett agency had raised the level of its performance so that it was able to weather the difficult transitions that come with mergers and even thrive in this unsettled environment.
Fisher is enjoying retirement, bringing to this new stage in his life a characteristic energetic enthusiasm.