Brian Lesser, a tech-savvy media executive who rose to CEO of North America for WPP’s GroupM unit, is leaving to become CEO of a new, as-yet-unnamed advertising and analytics company within telecommunications giant AT&T.
Lesser, who will report to AT&T Chairman-CEO Randall Stephenson, joins AT&T as it is poised to become an even bigger media player, with its acquisition of Time Warner pending regulatory approval.
"Once we complete our acquisition of Time Warner Inc., we believe there is an opportunity to build an automated advertising platform that can do for premium video and TV advertising what the search and social media companies have done for digital advertising,” Stephenson said in a statement, announcing Lesser’s role early Friday morning.
Although AT&T did not elaborate on the new company, it has been pushing the addressable and so-called “programmatic” TV marketplace for years, mainly via its DirecTV assets, which have one of the biggest addressable TV advertising footprints in the industry.
During his time at WPP, Lesser was a key player in leveraging the company’s technology and data assets, including 24/7, MIG, and ultimately agency trading desk Xaxis, which rose to become one of the most profitable units inside WPP.
In the time since Lesser moved to his broader role overseeing GroupM’s North American operations, there has been as series of reorganizations related to Xaxis, including an exodus of other Xaxis executives to form M Platform, though Xaxis is expected to announce a new strategic direction soon.
The move is a significant talent and management loss for WPP, because Lesser was seen as a wunderkind and a possible successor to GroupM chief Irwin Gotlieb, or even another senior role inside WPP.