Profile: Tony McGarahan, AMP - The streetfighter of the financial sector/Tony McGarahan is looking forward to his biggest creative challenge yet

Australian insurance giant AMP’s new corporate relations director has spent 17 years in financial services PR, working for some of the biggest names in the business, including Legal and General and Barclays. As such, he can claim some small part in shaping communications practice in his sector.

Australian insurance giant AMP’s new corporate relations director

has spent 17 years in financial services PR, working for some of the

biggest names in the business, including Legal and General and Barclays.

As such, he can claim some small part in shaping communications practice

in his sector.



Tony McGarahan learnt his trade during a five-year stint at Legal and

General as a press officer, then as press relations manager. He then

enjoyed a different take on finance at gaming company Mecca, where he

built media relations and internal communications teams and recruited

agencies.



A year later he left for Paragon, then thriving in the economic boom of

the 1980s, which was seeking a share of the lucrative personal finance

cake. He arrived as an account director and, within a year, his team was

bringing in pounds 1.5 million, thanks to work with Bradford and Bingley

and his old employer Legal and General. He was invited to join the

board, and won two PR Week awards for his work there.



McGarahan admits his new role is his biggest creative challenge so

far.



AMP has pounds 75 billion under management - pounds 52 billion in the

UK, and it is seeking to expand.



McGarahan will have to co-ordinate communications internally and

externally for the six UK brands it owns, which include Pearl Assurance

and Henderson Investors. He will also work hard on raising the profile

of the parent brand, which does not punch its weight with Government and

in the City.



Part of McGarahan’s strength is his focus and his desire to express

things as they are. For example, he has firm beliefs in where PR

consultancies fit into an in-house operation.



’I am a firm believer in using consultancies as strategic counsellors,

not as operatives. I think they are an expensive resource and I think

you have to use them sparingly.’



He is forthright about the one blot on his career - an eight-month stint

at Barclays Bank before he joined Mecca. He had an unhappy time in 1987

and 1988 when he was headhunted to run press relations there. ’Promises

made to me were not delivered, in terms of the job and responsibilities.

I found myself in a position I wasn’t promised and one that I wasn’t

enjoying,’ he says.



He found the organisation too political and too bureaucratic. ’They had

an arrogant attitude to their communications,’ he now says.



Despite a career mostly spent in communications, McGarahan has not tried

too hard to smoothe away his rough edges. He was brought up in Brixton,

not far from where John Major spent part of his childhood, and as a

youth kept fit and learnt self defence by training to box with his

brother.



’Tony is very much a streetfighter,’ says Jeff Prestridge, acting editor

of the Financial Mail on Sunday. He says McGarahan is not frightened of

rubbing people up the wrong way. ’You either love or hate him. There are

very few people around in financial services that are operators of the

press like him, and that comes from his background.’



Like many in his chosen field, McGarahan trained as a journalist. He

worked for the Portsmouth Evening News and the Wimbledon News, but after

18 months was frustrated at his failure to make the nationals.



It was while at Paragon that he met Midshires Building Society’s then

chief executive Mike Jackson. At the time the recession was beginning to

take its toll on Midshires. In 1991 he was appointed to the newly

created role of corporate communications director.



He was responsible for establishing a structure, and helping to plan and

communicate the vision of the business. As well as the usual PR

responsibilities of media and investor relations, and internal

communications, he was put in charge of brand development. Upping sticks

to the Midlands, he saw Midshires through a demutualisation process and

then a merger. However, when Midshires became part of Halifax this year,

his role effectively disappeared.



He turned down a job to head the Midshires brand and took the summer off

to be with his wife as she had their third child. He spent much of the

time, it seems, applying his persuasion skills to the serious matter of

making an Arsenal fan of their five-year-old boy. McGarahan’s wife,

Helen, however, has Geordie roots and a passion for Newcastle -

naturally the Toon army won.



However, all is not lost. During his time off from protecting the

reputation of AMP’s pounds 52 billion UK operation, McGarahan will be

putting his remaining energy into persuading his two-year-old daughter

to become a Gunner.



HIGHLIGHTS

1989

Director, Paragon Communications

1991

Director of corporate communications, Birmingham Midshires

1999

Director of corporate relations, AMP UK



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