EVEN TODAY, IT’S RARE FOR A WOMAN to rise to the top of the advertising business. Though women buy most of the products pitched to consumers, the industry remains resolutely male-dominated. So it was the talk of Madison Avenue in March when Beaumont native Charlotte Beers was named chairwoman of the venerable New York ad agency J. Walter Thompson—the third time she’s been called on to run a big shop.
Not that anyone was surprised, of course. For forty years Beers has thrived by selling everything from Uncle Ben’s rice to American Express Travelers Cheques. In her bailiwick of the management side of the ad game—the care and feeding of advertisers rather than the creation of campaigns—she has been deemed among the all-time best, male or female, at wooing and keeping accounts, drawing on an overstuffed Rolodex and her usual mix of charm and determination. “Texas has this attitude of ‘If you’re big enough to try, honey, go ahead,’” she says. “I’ve always been encouraged to try.”
Beers, 64, was born to parents who, she says, were not Texans but “embodied the character of Texas that fascinates people—the independence and a kind of personal bravery. We in advertising talk about brands, and there are very few brands as colorful and penetrating as Texas.” After earning degrees in math and physics at Baylor University, in Waco, she taught algebra to engineers. In 1959 she joined the Houston office of Uncle Ben’s as a group product manager. Her love of brand building was instilled during a decade there; for one product, Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild Rice, her ardor was such that she would stop people on the street and tell them about it. “Our job is to build a bridge between all that passion for a product [felt by its maker and consumers],” she says, “to fit it into [consumers’] lives. The better you understand those people, the more superior the fit.”
In 1969 she left Houston for Chicago, where she worked at J. Walter Thompson as an assistant account executive. Ten years later she