For John B. Adams Jr., 2015 has been the year of letting go — gracefully.

Adams is chairman of The Martin Agency, Richmond's premier ad agency. The company has a long list of world-class clients — the current roster includes Geico, Oreo, Stolichnaya, Hanes, Benjamin Moore, Capital One and Walmart.

With Adams at the helm, the agency created the Geico Gecko and Cavemen characters, the Oreo"Wonderfilled" and UPS "What Can Brown Do for You" campaigns, and other iconic ads.

Having already turned over the role of CEO to Matt Williams in 2013, Adams will step aside from the chairman's seat at the end of this year and become chairman emeritus.

"It's a business I absolutely adore," said Adams, "but this is the right time to make this move. I'm happy that the agency has several people in place, particularly Matt Williams, who are ready.

"Even if I wanted to stay around another five years, I had to think about that — whether it would be a smart thing to do for the agency," he said. "Matt is a guy who is going to be recruited if he's not in charge."

Adams has been with Martin for more than four decades, the past 20 years as the agency's top officer. During his tenure, Martin secured its status as an industry leader, winning national and international awards — Martin was Adweek's U.S. Agency of the Year in 2010. The company's long list of awards includes an Emmy for a long-form interactive documentary, "Clouds Over Cuba," for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, as well as a Cannes Grand Prix for its "Unskippable" pre-roll ads for Geico.

Adams is chairman of the board of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter and is a current or former board member of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, ChildFund International, Hampden-Sydney College (his alma mater), Longwood University, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Historical Society. He is executive in residence at the University of Richmond, where he enjoys teaching at the Robins School of Business.

He is a member of the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame and the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame.

Adams said he will be available for advice and assistance at the agency, "but there are other things I want to do."

For example, he wants to write a memorable song. "The heroes of songs are the songwriters, more than the performers. My playlists include several versions of the same songs. I like to see how different artists interpret what has been written," he said.

An award-winning actor in his college days, Adams also wants to write a play — he has the framework for a lighthearted drama that will explain the world's most fundamental mysteries.

More than anything else, he said, he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, college sweetheart Delores "Bunny" Howell Adams.


Role model

Elliot Richardson, whose career included four Cabinet posts and the ambassadorship to the United Kingdom. An intellectual of the first rank, he read poetry with his colleagues in the Justice Department. Refusing to dismiss the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate affair, he was a brilliant, talented man in public life with impeccable integrity — the kind of person who's very hard to come by.

Favorite book

"Love and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership,"  by James A. Autry, given to me by my wife years ago. A series of essays and, to my knowledge, the only poetry about business ever published. I still can't read some of the poems without choking up. Hard to imagine, but true.

Something that might surprise others

I worked one summer as a gravedigger. It wasn't my first choice. Learned a lot about communal grief.

Alternate profession or course of study

Actor. I'm afflicted with a burdensome level of empathy, so it seems natural.

Something you'd like to do

Write a really great popular song. There's nothing like a great, memorable, enduring song. No idea how to do it, but I'm working on it.

A small moment in life with a big impact

The Martin Agency had just failed to win the competition for the Tylenol business. I was devastated. Two weeks later I opened my birthday present from my wife, a copy of Remington's sculpture "The Wicked Pony," in which a cowboy is being thrown from a horse. Not the pick-me-up I had anticipated. "Know why I gave it to you?" she asked. "You've been moping around here for a week. It's time to knock it off and get back on the horse." I did. I smiled at the sculpture one sunny day a few years later — the day we won the Tylenol business.

Proudest accomplishment

My marriage. A great marriage takes hard work and the willingness to walk through fire together, and my wife and I have done it. The result has been profound happiness and the incomparable gift of three sons, all talented and admirable men.

Favorite thing about Richmond region

I've visited a lot of cities in the world. Richmond is supremely livable: perfect size, balanced economy, vibrant culture, history of restlessness and innovation (first African-American-owned bank, first catalog showroom, first innovation in used-car-buying, at least two new business incubators in town, not to mention Patrick Henry at St. John's Church). Richmond has a brooding, rebellious history, which is at once problematic and fascinating.


Position: chairman, The Martin Agency

Born/hometown: June 9, 1948, in Lynchburg (grew up in Charleston, W.Va.)

College: Hampden-Sydney College (bachelor's degree)

Family: wife Bunny; sons John III, Clifton and Nathaniel

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