Countrywide Porter Novelli UK CEO Neil Backwith has been promoted to chairman of the European business following the announcement that founder Peter Hehir is to retire.
A management shake-up became necessary last week following Hehir's announcement that he is to stand down as chairman of Porter Novelli International - the world's fourth largest PR firm by fee income - and as chairman of Porter Novelli Europe, its European arm.
Profit and loss responsibility for Europe will now reside with Backwith, who will take the title European CEO, to go with the UK CEO role he has held for the last 18 months.
Backwith has been at CPN for almost 20 years. He joined in the marketing practice and headed its ad business in the 1980s before moving to the PR side and taking over as CEO in 1999.
Since Hehir is also standing down as chairman of Porter Novelli International, leadership of that board will pass to global CEO Bob Druckenmiller. The board now also includes Backwith, and David Copithorne, president of Porter Novelli in the US and founder of the Copithorne and Bellows agency before PN merged with it last year.
Hehir will remain a consultant to Countrywide Porter Novelli's ultimate parent, Omnicom, for the next three years, but said he felt he had 'had enough of running PR companies'.
His career began as a trainee news reporter for two years on the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette in Scotland. He then served as chief press officer at the Milk Marketing Board. During his three years in this role, he studied for and passed the IPR exams, before returning to journalism for a three-year spell as news editor of prominent trade title The Grocer.
In 1973, Hehir set up Countrywide Communications in Banbury, Oxfordshire, where the agency remained for eight years - and retains an office - before setting up in London.
Countrywide merged with Porter Novelli International in 1997. It is now a Top 5 UK agency and part of a network spanning 100 offices in 51 countries.
Hehir said: 'I always planned to pull back from the business around the millennium so it feels like the right time.'
An indisputable industry veteran, Hehir is a multiple award winner. He was voted International PR Professional of the Year by PRWeek US in 2000.
The agency he launched remains the only agency to have been voted Agency of the Year in the PRWeek UK awards three times.