Fay Holmes Ferguson, c. 1973 (1951 - Present)

Fay Holmes Ferguson, a 1973 Concordia graduateBorn in La Porte, Indiana, offspring of a Lutheran household, Fay Holmes-Ferguson followed her faith tradition in attending Concordia College. As changes set in motion by the Civil Rights and Black Student Movements rippled through higher education, Holmes joined the first cohort of African American students on Concordia’s largely white campus. She graduated magna cum laude, going on to earn an M.B.A. degree from Indiana University. Holmes-Ferguson followed a successful career in advertising, eventually being named co-CEO at Burrell Communications Group, Chicago, Illinois. Ferguson joined Concordia’s Board of Regents in 2012. A gifted executive and community leader, Ferguson’s core life motto of leading a purpose-driven life focused on helping others, exemplifies the spirit and mission of Concordia College.  
 
Fay Holmes was born on December 6, 1951 in the northern Indiana community of La Porte. Having been raised in a Lutheran family she had familiarity with Lutheran colleges around the country. Concordia moved to the top of Holmes’s list in large measure because she preferred to attend a college that offered a sound education, one that promised to expose her to another part of the country, having an environment and culture different from her own, and one that was a distance from her home town, thereby enabling her growth and independence. When Holmes arrived in 1970, the number of African American students at Concordia was on the increase, part of a national trend in higher education, but domestic students of color numbered no more than twenty. Holmes was well-prepared as she and her siblings were the only students of color in her entire grade school, from kindergarten through eighth grade. Ferguson recalled her collegiate years as a time of exciting growth, both personally and educationally, working through differences with a white roommate, learning to listen, and facing the uncomfortable. [1]

Holmes achieved excellence as a student at Concordia, studying English, speech, and drama, and graduating with high honors in 1973. She also took advantage of extracurricular opportunities. As a ranked tennis player coming out of Indiana, Ferguson led the Concordia girl's tennis team as captain. She also became involved in Harambee Weuse (Swahili, “let’s pull together”), the minority student union established in 1971. Upon graduation, Holmes taught eighth grade English for two years in Michigan City, Indiana, where she encountered middle school students who had never learned to read. Holmes dug in, marshaling resources and forging partnerships with other teachers to help build literacy, earning grateful praise from students and parents. Eager for a fresh challenge, Holmes earned her MBA at Indiana University in 1978, before accepting a position with the Leo Burnett Company that launched her advertising career. Rising from Account Management Trainee to account executive at Burnett, she sharpened her marketing and advertising expertise promoting Pillsbury Company products and by learning the media landscape by both planning and buying media for Kellogg’s. [2]
 
In 1980, Fay married her graduate school sweetheart, Ernest Ferguson, to whom she was married for twenty-five years. In 1984, following a position as Senior Account executive with Bozell & Jacobs, Ferguson became an account supervisor with Burrell Communications Group (BCG), joining an industry leader with a strong  record of accomplishment in multicultural marketing and advertising. She never looked back. Progressing through the ranks—vice-president in 1986; account director two years later; management supervisor in 1992 and Client Services Director in 1993—Ferguson assumed increasing responsibility for major clients including Procter and Gamble and the McDonald’s Corporation. She also served as co-chair of the new business committee for Burrell. Named managing partner of account management and operations in 1997, Ferguson soon after rose to co-CEO when in 2004, Ferguson arranged a buyout from the firm’s founder, Tom Burrell.  Among the largest multicultural marketing firms in the world, Burrell Communications Group partners with corporate giants the likes of Toyota, Comcast, Procter & Gamble, Coca Cola,  McDonalds, Walmart and Google, just to name a few. [3]

Ferguson enthusiastically shared professional connections and human capital resources through sundry forms of community engagement and philanthropy, supporting causes such as the Chicago affiliates of the American Diabetes Association, Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes, the Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Primo Center for Women and Children, and By the Hand Club for Kids, among others. Always seeking to advance positive change, Ferguson served on multiple community, educational, and professional boards over the years, and contributed to the City of Chicago’s Anti-Violence Campaign. Ferguson has been hailed with multiple awards, including “Advertising Working Mother of the Year, Trailblazer Mom” from Working Mother magazine; Target Market News’ “Advertising Executive of the Year MAAX;” “Outstanding Women in Marketing Communications” from Ebony magazine; and the 2006 Chicago Advertising Woman of the Year Award from the Chicago Advertising Federation. In 2013, Ferguson received the honor of induction into the HistoryMakers, a digital archival repository recognizing people of color for sustained professional accomplishment and distinguished societal impact. Fay Ferguson joined the Concordia Board of Regents in 2012 and established in 2016 with fellow regent and 1978 graduate, Earl Lewis, a scholarship program for students of color. In 2017, Ferguson received the Silver Medal Award from the Chicago Advertising Federation. She also founded Allies of Innocence that same year, an organization that provides grief and trauma counseling free of charge to survivors of gun violence in Chicago. Ferguson’s only child, Eric Ferguson, died in service to our country in 2017 as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Through the Navy, Ferguson established a perpetual scholarship in her son’s honor, providing scholarships to children of Navy personnel. In 2018, Fay Ferguson was inducted into the Kelly School of Business Alumni Fellow Award, the school’s highest honor. [4]

Authors: Franz Tasha and Tyrell Setness

Footnotes
[1] Fay Holmes-Ferguson, telephone interview with Natalie Siede, 8 August 2017, audio file and transcript (Franz Tasha & Tyrell Setness), Concordia College Archives (CCA); Holmes-Ferguson, “It’s Always about YOU,” Concordia College Commencement Address, 1 May 2016, Biographical Files, CCA.
[2] 1971 Cobber Yearbook, 224; 1972 Cobber Yearbook, 172-173; Holmes-Ferguson interview; Harambee Weuse Minutes, 29 August 1972, Student Affairs, Office of Intercultural Affairs, Subject Files, B10/F4 (Record Group 17.2.3), CCA; Fay Holmes-Ferguson Biography, Burrell Communications, www.burrell.com/fay/; Fay Ferguson Biography and Interview, The HistoryMakers Oral History Collection, interviewed 27 August 2013, https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/fay-ferguson.
[3] Ferguson Biography and Interview, The HistoryMakers; Ferguson Biography, Burrell Communications. 
[4] Ferguson Biography and Interview, The HistoryMakers; Ferguson Biography, Burrell Communications; Ferguson Interview with Siede; Biographical File, CCA; email correspondence to Richard M. Chapman, 15 August 2019.