The occasional absurdity of being a professional pitchman isn’t lost on Tor Myhren, Worldwide Chief Creative Officer and New York President of internationally recognized advertising giant Grey Global.
Seated on a shallow bench in a cozy lounging area of his company’s Manhattan headquarters, the smartly dressed 43-year-old exec recounts a 2007 meeting with online brokerage house E*Trade in his first year on the job (Myhren had come from Detroit’s Leo Burnett, and smaller firms in Denver and California before that).
He and his colleagues had just presented their ideas for a Super Bowl ad featuring a now-iconic talking baby.
“We’re getting on the subway [afterwards], and it’s kind of packed, and I’m totally in the moment of this thing we’re trying to get them to buy,” he says, adding that it happened to be a spot that culminated with vomit. “And I’m totally passionately like, ‘It can’t be small puke. It has to be at least a big chunk.’ And this guy next to us is like, ‘I don’t know what fuckin’ industry you work in.’
At that moment, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is actually my life.’”
If Myhren’s on-the-record plain-spokenness is jarring, it represents the paradoxical shift that his business has undergone since the days when Don Drapers lorded over the halls of big agencies with public polish rivaled only by their private indiscretions.
Myhren, who started out as a sports reporter for the Providence Journal before finding his niche in advertising, is Roger Sterling re-imagined with a softened interior life—he’s a happily married dad whose biggest indulgences are travel and sharp suits—and less calculated but just as charismatic interpersonal panache. It could be argued that he’s at the vanguard of a new era in accessibility among corporate leadership.
“I do think the old way [where] every single answer to every question, whether in an interview or by an employee, is very canned is not appealing,” he offers. “I don’t think it works. At the same time, it’s not something I intentionally do, but I do believe in leading somewhat through humor.”
He’s also unafraid to make himself the focus of those punch lines. It’d be pretty difficult to fathom a Mad Men-era spinmeister a la Peter Campbell addressing a Mashable Summit with soliloquies on his punky adolescence and premature first sexual encounter.
But Myhren never really lost perspective on the angsty kid from Denver, Colorado he was once was (“I was always getting into weird shit,” he says with a laugh), and it’s informed his point of view to this day.