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White Lee Sews Up Carat Chicago Post

Aug 13, 2008  •  Post A Comment

When opportunity knocks, it’s a wonderful thing.
Jennifer White Lee hoped one day she’d be running the Chicago office of GroupM’s Mediaedge:CIA. Instead, the office was closed last year and its business was moved to New York.
Ms. White moved to GroupM’s Mindshare, where she was senior partner and group planning director running the American Family Insurance business. One day she got a phone call from a headhunter she hadn’t heard from in years, telling her a position had opened running the Chicago office of Carat. Would she be interested?
“It was a nice call to get,” said Ms. White Lee, who jumped at the chance. “These opportunities don’t come up very often.”
Running an office would give her a chance to make a difference, and Carat offers a global media brand with deep resources to work with, she said, while at the same time seeming to be less bureaucratic than larger organizations.
She said she wanted to work somewhere more entrepreneurial, and “I just have a feeling that Carat’s a little more like that right now.”
“Jennifer brings tremendous cross-category experience that will benefit our clients and internal teams alike,” said Carat President Scott Sorokin.
Ms. White Lee, a confirmed Midwesterner, was born in Limerick, Ireland. Her parents brought her to the U.S. when she was 3 years old and she grew up in Waukegan, Ill. Since her father was in the airline business, the family had the opportunity to return to the old country many times when she was growing up, and she maintained strong connections with her relatives there. She said she still goes back every five years or so, and said this year she’s already had two waves of relatives from Ireland visit her in the U.S.
She went to college at Northern Illinois University, planning to be a journalist.
“I used to love to write, and I thought that would be what I’d do,” she said. Then she discovered media planning and advertising as part of the journalism school curriculum.
“I always had a very strong inclination toward math. I almost became an engineer. I also like writing, so I found media planning was quite the blend of both. There’s a lot of people in our industry that are very right- and left-brain balanced people,” she said.
She got her first job at Chicago agency Tatham-Laird & Kudner.
She recalled figuring she could afford to live on $12,000 a year. The agency offered $10,000.
“I said ‘fine,’ because a professor in school said, ‘Whatever they offer you, take it.’ You’ve got to get your foot in the door,” she said.
She started as a print coordinator, and moved up in the print group. She wanted to get into planning and told Phil Gerber, the head of the agency’s media department, that she’d work for free if she got the next planner opening. She got the post but kept getting paychecks.
She moved to CPM, an independent media buyer. After a decade, CPM was acquired by the British agency CIA in 1999, then merged with Mediaedge.
Ms. White Lee said she plays golf and tennis. She recently took up Pilates, which has changed her life by helping her building up strength in muscles she didn’t even use before.
She also enjoys sewing, creating home decorating items like pillows, cushions and tablecloths that adorn her home and her mother’s home. On Friday nights she plays Bunco at a women’s social club.
She and her husband, who is retired, throw a lot of parties at their suburban home. Upcoming is a bocce tournament her friends look forward to. They have a big backyard and it’s set up “for adults to play a lot of games they never get to play,” she says.
They have a shi-poo (a shih tzu-poodle mix) called Packer, as in Green Bay Packers.
“We live on Green Bay Road. My husband’s from Wisconsin. He’s a huge Packers fan and, of course, I’m a Bears fan,” she says.
Who Knew: Ms. White Lee taught disco dancing during her college days, and she and her brother would win dance contests at local bars. She grew up taking ballet, passing the first two levels of training to be a prima ballerina. “I think every girl want to be a ballerina, but not all of them took the level courses I did,” she said. Then she quit to take up the piano, which she still plays. As an adult, she’s taken a number of dance courses, including modern and jazz.

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