College of Media | News

Illini Comeback Guest Ron Bess '69 BUS, MS '72 MEDIA

10/25/2012  8:00 am

Ron Bess ’69 BUS, MS ’ 72 MEDIA, CEO of Havas Worldwide, has deep roots in Central Illinois with family from Fairbury and Chatsworth. He grew up in Bloomington, Illinois admiring the University of Illinois’ quality academic reputation. And was a sports fan. Ron came to Illinois on a football scholarship and served as captain of the football team his final year.


When asked about his time on campus Ron comments on the diversity of people he met. There was a mixing of cultures, of rural and urban, that gave him an awareness and appreciation of others. When he moved to Chicago after graduation the city didn’t feel foreign. He had friends already. And he still has many of those friendships from football, class and his fraternity.


In graduate school Ron enjoyed the academics of college. He enjoyed the study of contemporary culture. He felt the advertising graduate program offered intellectual thought leadership that was stimulating.


The career path of Ron Bess is impressive. In 1972 after graduate school he joined Foote, Cone & Belding (Draftfcb) as an account executive and worked on the Kimberly-Clark and SC Johnson accounts. Three years later he moved to Needham Harper Steers (DDB) and within a year was account director running the McDonald’s business. He was 29. In 1987 he left to start his own agency, Bayer Bess Vanderwarker. Ever heard of the “Be Like Mike” campaign? Yes, that was Bess.


True North Communications acquired Bayer Bess in 1996. Then the parent company of Foote, Cone and Belding, Ron was back at his first agency, this time as head of FCB Chicago. Two years later he was president of FCB Worldwide. In 1999 after 27 years in Chicago, Bess made the move to New York City to head Young & Rubicam’s diversified communications group. He returned to Chicago just 5 years later to head Euro RSCG, now knows as Havas.


Ron still feels advertising is a great business. He recently read a quote from Albert Einstein: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” For Ron Bess, that describes advertising. After 40 years in the business some things have not changed. The fundamentals: consumer insight and positioning, creative execution, and quality relationships have always been necessary.  The astounding changes in digital, social and mobile still require that the fundamentals are in place. The role of agencies as consultants to their clients is even more important as more delivery systems are created.


In the business world Ron feels there are two things people need for success: Results and relationships. You need to have ideas that make things better; that produce results. You must also be a person that others want to work with; someone they respect, trust, listen to and learn from. Without both relationships and the ability to produce results you won’t go very far.


Ron’s personal philosophy can be summarized in a phrase: Face it. Figure it out. Fix it. Reality is always present. You can’t avoid it, so you might as well face it and figure out what to do. Some will try to skip the figure it out stage and head straight to fixing things, but unless you spend the time to really think about the situation and develop a strategy you cannot determine what needs to be done. Once you have a strategy, then do something; act.


Ron Bess is an Illini Comeback Guest for Homecoming 2012. Each year since 1980, the Student Alumni Ambassadors of the University of Illinois Alumni Association invite a group of distinguished alumni back to the campus to participate in traditional activities such as the Homecoming Parade and Pep Rally. These alumni honorees also interact with current students and talk about their professional experiences since leaving their Alma Mater. Students, alumni and friends can meet Ron at a reception Friday, October 25 from 9:30 – 11 in 336 Gregory Hall.