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.
How involved do you remain in client-side work in your position?
The senior team is focused on client-side work in addition to managerial duties. Clients value senior counsel and expect it, particularly at challenging times – contentious mergers, difficult trade cases or stormy legislative processes plus input to strategic planning sessions are all things that keep the senior team busy. The aim should be to ensure there is a mixed team, with people serving clients at the appropriate level for the task at hand.
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?
How has Brussels lobbying changed over the last 10 years?
It used to be all about who you knew and the old boys’ network, but the industry has become much more technocratic and professional. There are many extremely bright and highly-educated young people working in the industry and in the institutions who, through their higher studies in languages, international relations and politics, have contributed to this process. In recent years in particular there has been an influx of eastern Europeans who have bought fresh perspectives to their work, further enriching the process.
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!
The new President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has significantly restructured the EU executive. What impact will this have on the practice of public affairs?
It’s still early days and it remains to be seen how the new structure will work in practice. Some cabinets and teams are still being completed. At the moment, I don’t think it will radically affect the practice of public affairs per se.
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.
Assuming a UK in-out EU referendum in 2017, what’s your prediction for the result?
|Which politician, past or present, would you like to be stuck in a lift with? What issues would you raise?||Mrs Pankhurst. Why we still have a fight to fight.|
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|Tweet your career-to-date in 140 characters or less||Sometime diplomat brings vast experience to provide strategic business-critical advice to companies navigating political complexities of the EU and beyond.|
|What’s your Media diet?||Financial Times, BBC, Midi Libre|
|Guilty pleasure||How could it not be chocolate, living in Belgium?|