Team One’s New Co-Captain Is Ready to Play


Leonard Pearlstein, a Los Angeles advertising veteran who helped launch the ill-fated Suzuki Samurai, is back in the driver’s seat.

He’s been named chief executive of Team One, the El Segundo unit of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide that creates advertising for Lexus.

Known as a hands-on executive who seldom takes no for an answer, Pearlstein is expected to expand Team One’s limited roster of clients.


“He’s a builder of advertising agencies,” said a former partner, Paul Keye. “He loves the thrill of the chase.”

Pearlstein said his priority is Lexus, which is preparing to introduce a sport-utility vehicle. Beyond that, he said, he plans to spend time getting to know Team One.

If the past is any indication, former associates say, the atmosphere at Team One is about to change.

“He’s a high-wattage person,” said Keye, who worked with Pearlstein for 20 years. “It’s as if a glow will be hovering over El Segundo.”

Pearlstein’s move to Team One is the latest in a career that has taken more twists than a car in a commercial. He has run an agency, owned another and most recently worked as an advertising consultant. Whenever business dried up, as it does in the ad world, he has managed to land on his feet.

“He is very optimistic,” said Susan Garber, who worked for Pearlstein a decade ago. “He always sees the silver lining.”



Along with Keye and Mario Donna, Pearlstein owned Keye/Donna/Pearlstein, a boutique known for creative work. Perhaps the agency’s best-known spot was an anti-drug commercial in which an announcer snaps, “This is your brain on drugs” as a fried egg sizzles in a pan.

The boutique helped introduce the Suzuki truck using tactics that appealed to women as well as men--a campaign that has been memorialized in a Harvard Business School case study. But the agency suffered a severe blow in 1988 when Consumer Reports said the sport-utility vehicle was unsafe because it had a tendency to roll over on turns.

According to Keye, the agency’s billings shrank from $85 million to $45 million overnight. “It was like having the roof blow off,” he said.

After selling the struggling agency, Pearlstein joined Lord Dentsu & Partners as president and rapidly won new business. Andrew Bielanski, marketing director at Countrywide Home Loans who worked with Pearlstein at Lord Dentsu, said he pursued potential clients with a vengeance. Bielanski said that in pitching a car account in 1992, Pearlstein obtained volumes of customer service information--including a videotaped interview with the owner of Wally Park, the long-term-parking service at Los Angeles International Airport.

“He’s a bulldog,” Bielanski said. “When he wants an account, he goes after it, and he won’t let go.”

Based on that research, Lord Dentsu won the assignment to introduce a luxury car by Mazda. But Mazda later decided against launching the Amati in the United States.


Pearlstein’s style is expected to make a difference at Team One, which has had mixed success in bringing in new business. It has had trouble luring mid-size clients; it recently lost the America West Airlines account.

But Pearlstein’s aggressive style has occasionally rubbed some colleagues the wrong way. Former associates complain he can be abrasive.

Keye said that when they worked together, Pearlstein would summon Keye and Donna by shouting at them from his office. In response, they ignored him and walked out of the building.

“I wondered, ‘Why can’t he get up?’ We both have egos,” Keye said.

For his part, Pearlstein said that his reputation is overblown. Friends agree.

“Leonard is a tough guy,” said Lee Kovel, partner of Kovel Kresser & Partners who worked with Pearlstein at Lord Dentsu. “He fired people. He doesn’t tolerate mediocrity, and he’s not middle-of-the-road. But he’s fair.”


For Pearlstein, the timing of his move to Team One couldn’t be better. As head of the Pearlstein Group, he has been doing consulting work and handling advertising chores for Hardee’s, a fast-food chain with $60 million in annual billings. But Hardee’s has been acquired by the parent of Carl’s Jr., and people familiar with the account expect Hardee’s to hire a new advertising agency.

Pearlstein wouldn’t speculate on the Hardee’s business. He said work underway will be handled by his staff, which is going to Team One.


Relationships developed over Pearlstein’s career played a role in getting his latest position. As a partner at Keye/Donna, Pearlstein struck up a friendship with an employee, Tom Cordner, and kept in touch over the years. Cordner, now creative director at Team One, played a key role in hiring Pearlstein and will be co-chairman with him.

Pearlstein succeeds Scott Gilbert, who, as previously reported, is moving to Saatchi & Saatchi’s unit in Torrance, which handles the Toyota business.