Jennifer Appleby to retire as president of Wray Ward – Charlotte Business Journal – The Business Journals

Jennifer Appleby to retire as president of Wray Ward – Charlotte Business Journal – The Business Journals

Jennifer Appleby is stepping down as president and chief creative officer of Wray Ward, the Charlotte area’s largest advertising agency. The move is effective at the end of this year.
Kent Panther, the agency’s executive vice president, will replace Appleby. The rest of the current management team will stay intact.
“We’ve been thinking about succession planning, and we just thought the time was right,” Appleby told CBJ. “I’ve been thinking about what’s going to come next. I will be consulting through the transition and continuing on some other long-term projects but also continuing to serve with some of the cultural initiatives that are so near and dear to my heart.”
Among the latter is a service-grant program providing creative services at no cost to nonprofits and community causes as well as diversity and inclusion initiatives. The service-grant program, started in 2019, has provided $600,000 worth of pro bono work to nonprofits.
Appleby, who owns the agency, will continue in a new role as executive chair while stepping back from day-to-day management. Panther will become majority owner when he steps into his new post as president and chief executive officer. Appleby will become a minority owner.
Panther joined Wray Ward in 2004 as head of insights and brand strategy. During the past decade, he has played a key role in the agency’s growth, fueled by an emphasis on clients in the home and building sectors.
Last year, Wray Ward generated local office revenue of $20 million and $37.5 million companywide, according to CBJ research data. The agency enjoyed rapid growth when it shifted into home and building — and consumer demand for home-improvement projects during the start of the pandemic accelerated those gains.
Appleby said the agency has added 68 people over the past 18 months, pushing Wray Ward’s head count to 170. Key clients include GE Appliances, Glen Raven, Huber Engineered Woods, LEVOLOR, Moen, Sherwin-Williams, Sonos, Stanley Black & Decker, Sunbelt Rentals and VELUX Skylights.
“Jennifer is an incredible mentor,” Panther told CBJ. “The culture she’s built here is phenomenal, the reputation in the industry and outside the industry, within our community and outside our community. … The things Jennifer has put in place are absolutely incredible.”
Wray Ward, founded in 1977, hired Appleby in 1993 as senior art director. After several promotions, she became president and chief content officer in 2001.
Citing strong recent growth, Panther’s leadership and close connection with top clients, and the opening of a new headquarters in 2020, Appleby said the time was right for her to step aside.
Wray Ward moved from midtown to the emerging FreeMoreWest neighborhood in September 2020. The headquarters project combined new construction with adaptive reuse of a 1945 industrial building for a total space encompassing 39,000 square feet. That’s double the size of the agency’s previous home.
“I was put in an incredible position by (agency co-founder) Bob Ward and leaders before me to carry the baton and carry on the roots and the core DNA of Wray Ward,” she said. “So, I wanted to make sure that I was able to pass that on to the next leader. And it was really important that that leader be someone within the family, someone that understood the culture, knew everything about the home and building category, and someone that represented what Wray Ward is. Kent embodies all of those things.”
As executive chair, Appleby will continue to serve on various civic boards, though she said in another year or so she will cede some of those spots to other Wray Ward colleagues. 
She vowed to keep a hand in community work in some fashion or another for years to come. She is past chair of the board of trustees for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, a former executive committee member at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance and a current member of the Charlotte Executive Leadership Council.
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