PROFILE: Michael Prideaux, British American Tobacco - Living with controversy. Michael Prideaux aims to make the course of BAT’s recent demerger run smooth

Michael Prideaux is currently reorganising British American Tobacco’s (BAT) head office communications function following the de-merger of its financial services arm. Given that BAT is the world’s second largest tobacco company after Philip Morris it might seem a daunting prospect, but it is highly unlikely that Prideaux will be rattled.

Michael Prideaux is currently reorganising British American

Tobacco’s (BAT) head office communications function following the

de-merger of its financial services arm. Given that BAT is the world’s

second largest tobacco company after Philip Morris it might seem a

daunting prospect, but it is highly unlikely that Prideaux will be

rattled.



’He’s very calm, I’ve never seen him in a flap,’ says GCI Focus director

Christopher Joll, who was managing director of Charles Barker City in

the late 1980s when Prideaux was chief executive.



Even in those days Prideaux was working on BAT business. However, things

were very different then. The group sprawled from retail, paper and the

recently hived off financial brands like Eagle Star and Allied Dunbar

(which have been merged with Zurich Insurance to become Zurich Financial

Services) to the tobacco business that is all that remains today.



His move from consultancy to in-house was hastened by the announcement

of a pounds 13 billion hostile bid for BAT by James Goldsmith’s Hoylake

consortium.



Goldsmith telephoned BAT’s then chairman Pat Sheehy to forewarn him of

his bid, and soon after Sheehy called Prideaux and told him that his

presence was required immediately. Prideaux had been intending to join

two months later. The takeover threat was eventually seen off, with no

little thanks to Prideaux and his team. ’We ran a great campaign, and

credit where credit is due, Michael was an integral part of that,’ says

Zurich Financial Services director of strategic and corporate affairs

Wallace Dobbin, who worked with Prideaux from the late 1980s.



The hostile bid crisis kept Prideaux occupied until well into 1990 when

BAT began demerging a number of its businesses, including Argos.

Thereafter it was the financial services side of the corporation that

took precedence, with issues such as the insurance dimension to home

repossessions and the pensions mis-selling scandal to address. More

recently, the explosion of litigation against tobacco companies in the

US has occupied a great deal of Prideaux’s time. As has the latest

demerger, on which he has worked for over a year.



The present challenge sees him restructuring the communications

function, so as to integrate his 12-strong team from head office with

the 20-strong team from its tobacco subsidiary. Following the demerger,

Prideaux has taken responsibility for not only a total of 150 PR staff

around the world but the regulatory affairs and medical experts the

tobacco company employs in its external affairs armoury.



One consultant who has worked closely with Prideaux says of him: ’He’s

extremely bright and rather old-fashioned in a polite and courteous

way.



People might assume that somebody working for a tobacco company has few

ethics but he is in fact deeply principled.’



Joll, who has known Prideaux since they were children, also paints a

picture of a bright and charming man with first-rate personnel

management skills. Prideaux comes from a privileged background - his

father was chairman of NatWest bank. He went to Eton and read English at

Cambridge before embarking on the first stage of his career at a

part-works publisher.



From there he moved to the Financial Times, rising to UK advertisement

director. The transition to PR came at Charles Barker City, which in the

1980s was two-thirds an advertising operation against one-third PR.



Today, Prideaux enjoys an enviable lifestyle. His job takes him to

far-flung locations - he has seen the sun rise from a mountain in

Kirghizstan (a former Soviet state, to the west of China). He is also an

opera buff with cultured tastes who is married to the writer Sue

Prideaux.



Back in the office, those who know him say that once the restructuring

is complete he will have one overriding objective-to position BAT as a

responsible company in a controversial industry.





HIGHLIGHTS

1980: UK advertisement director, Financial Times

1983: Chief executive, Charles Barker City

1989: Director of group public affairs, BAT Industries

1998: Corporate and regulatory affairs director, British American

Tobacco



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.