Remembering Gary Kearley - a creative suit that led Young & Rubicam Sydney to glory in the 90s

Screen shot 2012-07-02 at 11.01.54 PM.jpgMany in the Australian ad industry may not have heard of the passing of Gary Kearley, who recently died in New York, aged 56.

Kearley is probably best known in his role of managing director of Young & Rubicam, Sydney throughout its highly creative period in the 1990s - working closely with executive creative director Neil Lawrence.

In 1993, Y&R Sydney was a Top 10 finalist for the prestigious 'Worldwide Agency of the Year' Award and won Campaign Brief Agency of the Year two years in a row: in 1994 and 1995.

It was at Y&R where hot creative team Jonathan Kneebone and Dave Johnson created the infamous UV sunscreen campaign that featured a bunch of black guys gently mocking their white counterparts for their lack of melanin - a campaign that was controversially pulled by Colgate in the US. The pair went on to found Australia's world-famous The Glue Society.
Screen shot 2012-07-03 at 5.48.49 PM.jpgUp until his untimely death, Kearley was Regional Vice President of Active International - Asia Pacific, based in Sydney. Active is the world's largest corporate trading company headquartered in the US. He recently pioneered the company's joint venture in India with local partner AerenR Enterprises, which opened for business in late 2006.

Kearley was born and raised in the UK and graduated from Manchester University with an Honours degree in Management Sciences. His first appointment was as a media planner and buyer at Young and Rubicam in London.

At the age of 25 he was promoted to Managing Director of a subsidiary company - Horizons Media. In that role, he met his Australian wife and when offered the position of National Media Director for Y&R Australia it was an easy decision to accept.

After five years, Kearley was promoted to Managing Director of Y&R Sydney and led the turnaround of the company.

In 1998, after an unbroken 20-year career with Y&R, Kearley decided it was time to expand his wings beyond advertising. After a brief sabbatical where he lived in Italy (yes, he did OK from the sale of Y&R to WPP), wrote a book and lectured local undergraduate students, Kearley accepted the position of Managing Director of Active International Australia. In 2003, he was promoted to the regional role.

8 Comments

Jonathan Kneebone said:

Thanks indeed for posting this story Michael. You are right to say Gary was the person who together with Neil Lawrence did hire Dave & myself to join Young & Rubicam, Sydney back in 1995. Under their leadership and shared ambition for the agency, Y&R was doing some incredible work. It is testament to their skills and support that the entire creative team we were lucky enough to join - Pete Buckley, Tim Hall, Georgia Arnott, Matt McGrath, Chris Round, Christian Finucane, Jon Skinner - have all gone on to become creative leaders here in Sydney. It is testament to Gary that despite the inevitable conflicts of working for an international network, the Y&R Sydney office was able to develop its own (at times fairly provocative) voice and win local and international praise for work across many pieces of business. I'm sure all of us from that era were saddened to hear the news. But perhaps it might be an incentive for us to catch up for a long overdue beer in his honour.

Leezy said:

My sympathies to his family - always enjoyed working with him and his company at lunch. Agree with Jonathan - they were indeed exciting, creative and innovative years for the whole Y&R group here in Australia.

Tim H said:

Gary was a great ringmaster for our circus. Keeping all the egos in Neil's creative department in check would have been a challenge for anyone. Yet I remember this period as the most united, inspiring and fun period of my career. Gary never got in the way of great work.
I remember when we cleaned up at AWARD, Gary quipped' Shit, this is going to run up the bar tab'. Time to return the shout Gary- here's to you.

Laura Kearley said:

To all of those who remember my Dad, I would like to say a huge thank you from all his family around the world. It is heartwarming to see stories of his time at Y&R brought back to life - it made up such a huge part of both his career and his character. He is missed by everyone who knew him. And believe me, there are toasts being made across the globe.

Monty A said:

As a recruit in the Jack Vaughan era, I was in the middle of a tug of war between the forces trying to maintain the status quo and those trying to transform the agency into a creative force. Any MD needed to have the forbearance of a saint and the diplomacy skills of a United Nations Secretary-General. Gary had both. I used to comment at the time that there are a lot of fair weather sailors in adland, but Gary knew how to sail the ship through stormy waters - so he justifiably earned a lot of respect and affection for that.

Linda Kearley said:

We had been living in Beijing for five months where Gary was leading Active International's launch into China when we discovered how seriously ill Gary was. We raced to New York for treatment where sadly Gary passed away 9 days later. Before moving to Beijing we had lived in New York, Paris and Mexico all Active offices where Gary had made a huge impact. At a Celebration of Life ceremony in the Active Head Office in New York, George Blunt who had worked with Gary in Australia and India, delivered a moving eulogy quoting tributes from all over the world. Tributes describing Gary as a 'brilliant manager, a master of diplomacy, an inspirational and selfless leader who believed in his people and always gave credit to the individual or team who achieved success. And, most importantly.....'a top bloke'. He will be sadly missed.

James Vosper said:

I worked with Gary when he led the global pitch for the Australian Tourist Commission at Y&R.

He was a true gentleman and was a great leader. Working with Gary and the team at Y&R was a pleasure.

Condolences to his family.

Kartik said:

I had the pleasure of working with Gary when he started up the India operations for Active International. The huge amount of positive energy he brought to the business was truly infectious and helped us get through some really tough periods. His ability to spot a business opportunity in places where there seemed to be none was truly amazing. I was hoping to work with him again in the future but unfortunately that's not meant to be. He is deeply missed.

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