Thirteen years as a career diplomat with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office with overseas postings in Malaysia, Tanzania and the Netherlands and work on EU affairs in the FCO in London. Awarded an MVO for services to HM The Queen in Tanzania. Over 25 years in consultancy, first with Shandwick in London, The Hague and Brussels, then with GPC (now FleishmanHillard) in Brussels. Co-founded Blueprint Partners in Brussels which was subsequently sold to FTI Consulting. Working on public affairs issues in Brussels for almost 20 years. First female President of the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium in 102 years: awarded an OBE for services to British business in Belgium.
After 13 years as a British Diplomat, how did you find the move into your first public affairs role?
I was introduced to Shandwick in London by one of its clients. It was at the time of the launch of the single market and businesses were scrambling to understand the EC – as it then was – and how it would impact them. This was a new area of focus for consultancies which were recruiting people with EC policy experience. In many respects I was struck by the similarities rather than the differences. Public affairs work rather felt like contracted out diplomacy – managing multiple dossiers, coming to grips quickly with an issue and identifying pressure points. And extensive networking, of course, with political influencers and decision-makers.
Describe your typical working day.
There is no such a thing! Every day is different. I am out of the office quite a bit of course, either with clients or in the political and business community. My role is to bring strategic thought to bear on resolving clients’ problems or concerns. That requires understanding the moving wallpaper and you can’t do that stuck behind a desk. Nothing beats speaking to people on a one-on-one basis.
Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have been involved with?
It’s extremely difficult to single out any one particular issue or campaign. There have been many that have made me proud for very different reasons – and it’s not necessarily the biggest or most visible. Sometimes the smaller campaigns are massively impactful where it matters.
What do you enjoy about working in European public affairs?
It’s a real privilege to work in Brussels. The FTI Consulting team in Brussels numbers 50+ now – and is still growing. We have 19 different nationalities, speaking more than 20 languages. Brussels is clearly an important political hub – there’s no denying this, whatever your political persuasion! To be working on issues which affect all our lives, in a multi-cultural, multi-faceted environment: what’s not to like?
With the increase of EU affairs practitioners in Brussels, how does FTI Consulting remain competitive and keep itself ahead-of-the-game?
That’s easy! We recruit the brightest and the best, across all ages. We focus on providing senior-level counsel to our clients, which is a real differentiator. If you get the team right, everything else falls into place!
What’s your opinion on a compulsory EU transparency register? What are the possible benefits and/or drawbacks?
As a member of EPACA, the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association, we publicly support a mandatory register. On a personal level, it seems wrong to me that there are still practitioners who refuse to follow best practice and sign the register. As an industry we should not be operating in the shadows, and in a democracy we should not be afraid of transparency. I regret the fact that some law firms hide behind the excuse of the otherwise valid and legal argument of protecting client confidentiality for not signing up to the Register, whilst undertaking work which is effectively lobbying and public affairs. This can’t be right.
Throughout your extensive experiences, what have you learnt about leadership?
Be clear, open, and frank. But I’m sure this is one of those ongoing learning processes.
What’s been the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in EU public affairs?
Go for it! It’s rewarding, interesting, ever changing. Not for the shrinking violet, however!
If you could timetravel back to the start of your working life, what advice would you give yourself?
Listen hard. Think about things from all angles. Don’t rush….get it right.
How important is completing a stage in the European Institutions to a career in EU public affairs?
We have always recruited people from different walks of life since we believe the strength of the team lies in different backgrounds – educational, cultural and professional. So the team includes lawyers, former civil servants, former journalists, people with earlier agency experience, people who have worked in parliaments, for political parties and law firms. Bring it all on – that’s what gives us the ability to draw on different perspectives and so better advise our clients.
Assuming a UK in-out EU referendum in 2017, what’s your prediction for the result?