Brendon Craigie - On the fast track

The group CEO of Hotwire has shot to the top of the agency and now has ambitions to conquer the world, reports Sara Luker.

Brendon Craigie: 'A young man in a hurry'
Brendon Craigie: 'A young man in a hurry'

Those close to Hotwire Group CEO Brendon Craigie describe him as 'a young man in a hurry'. They may have a point.

Joining Hotwire as a senior account executive, the 35-year-old now finds himself in charge of a growing international tech powerhouse.

Despite his 'man in a hurry' moniker, Craigie has a quality increasingly rare in the modern-day PR industry - loyalty.

He has spent almost 12 years at Hotwire and is fiercely proud of the agency's achievements over that time.

The agency is undergoing a period of change after founder Kristin Syltevik, the woman who gave him his chance at the agency back in 2001, left earlier this year to pursue other interests. But Craigie remains firmly committed to the cause.

Craigie says of his staying power: 'Many of my peers have moved around the industry, but I've always seen myself at Hotwire. I've had variety through my different roles here and through the company's continuous development.'

Perhaps Craigie's need to stay with one company is a result of a childhood that involved constant change. His father's work in the civil service saw a young Craigie moved from pillar to post - living in countries including Hong Kong, Turkey and Canada.

Craigie, tellingly, sees only the positives in such potentially disruptive circumstances, which he says has 'resulted in me being able to build relationships quickly'.

His childhood was crowded as well as changeable. As the only boy among five sisters, Craigie had to jockey for position and make an extra effort to stand out.

He describes himself as 'a bit of an entrepreneur when I was a kid' and reminisces of money-making schemes while at school. Hard work was instilled at an early age and he was working part-time at his mum's B&B by the time he was 12.

This work ethic has helped Hotwire cement its position as one of the top five tech consultancies in PRWeek's list of the top 40 tech consultancies in 2012. However, Hotwire surrendered its second place position to Brands2Life this year, primarily a result of losing its £250,000 BlackBerry account to Good Relations in April 2011.

Having secured the agency's place at the top table in the UK, Craigie now has his ambitions set further afield.

In November 2011 Hotwire announced a major leap forward in its business with the launch of its US presence. Hotwire also has offices in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. It now employs 80 people in the UK and 160 globally.

Craigie says: 'Global expansion is crucial to Hotwire - so I'm increasingly spending my time travelling.

'During the next five years I want us to double in size and the fact I can say this so confidently really excites me. I really feel I'm living the dream. I love coming into work, I love the variety of our clients and the fact that we can push boundaries, challenge our clients to achieve great things and really make an impact.'

This desire to make an impact is something Craigie developed while at Leeds University studying politics.

'I was always interested in ideas and how to influence how people saw things,' he explains. 'I used to organise events and work closely with the uni newspaper. I realised then that a career in PR was the only way for me to go. How to generate impact has always been the driver in my career.'

Feeling that he needed to move to London to generate that impact, he joined Weber Shandwick and this was where he met Syltevik.

She describes Craigie as 'the best person I have ever worked with,' adding: 'He is highly professional and a great people manager with a good head for business but also a really nice guy. He is a great all rounder who is hungry on clients' behalf.'

Syltevik was the first to label Craigie 'a young man in a hurry'. This is backed up by Spada director Clive Booth, who was Craigie's boss at Weber Shandwick. He remembers being 'left in no doubt that I was recruiting someone both cleverer than me and more ambitious than I would ever dream of being'.

Craigie's fearless mentality prompted his decision to leave the security of Weber Shandwick to move to Syltevik's start-up tech agency. But the wisdom of this decision was sorely tested by the bursting of the dotcom bubble.

Craigie remembers that period as one of 'convincing clients of our credibility in a time where staff were being cut left, right and centre across the industry'.

The start-up pandered to Craigie's fast-track ambitions. Despite starting as a senior account executive, Craigie had responsibilities far beyond his pay grade. He also reported straight to Syltevik. 'I was able to grow as Hotwire grew,' he says. 'I expanded my horizons as the company branched out into different territories like France, Germany, Spain and Italy.'

It did not take him long to move up the ranks - he now sits in the global CEO seat and does not show any signs of slowing.

His personal life has also been hurried. Craigie married Ellen when he was 26, and by 32 he already had three children: a son and twins, one boy and one girl.

Typically, the self-confessed 'geek' still has plenty of ambitions yet to be fulfilled.

'I have a healthy paranoia that even when things have gone well I think they've only been a seven out of ten and there is always room for improvement,' he says.

If he has been operating at seven out of ten thus far, it will be quite something when he really hits his stride.

CV
2011: Group CEO, Hotwire
2010: Managing director, UK, Hotwire
2009: Managing director, international, Hotwire
2001: Senior account executive, Hotwire
2000: Senior account executive, Weber Shandwick
1999: Consultant, Weber Shandwick Worldwide

TIPS FROM THE TOP

- What was your biggest career break?

My first job working for Shandwick. This set me on a course to the agency's tech arm Miller Shandwick and then Hotwire.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

Two - Kristin Syltevik and Anthony Wilson, the co-founders of Hotwire. Working with them has been one long PR consultancy MBA, and among the many things I have learned from them is the importance of not reacting immediately to a problem.

- What advice would you give to people climbing the career ladder?

When starting out keep your eyes open for opportunities, and when hunting for jobs look for companies that are growing. Think of what you can do for your company, not what your company can do for you. The rewards will follow.

- What qualities do you look for in new recruits?

Passion, confidence, humility and a hunger for success.

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