Miles Celic - In view of the bigger picture

Prudential's public affairs chief insists the details of legislation should not mask the wider issues facing the financial sector. Matt Cartmell reports.

Shaping the debate: Miles Celic
Shaping the debate: Miles Celic

Miles Celic is one of the ever-growing throng of Brits who owe a huge debt to reality TV.

A starring turn on Big Brother or The X-Factor is not on his CV. Rather, his moment in the spotlight came in an early example of the genre called The People's Parliament, on which political junkie Celic took part in televised debates.

The then 21-year-old was subsequently invited to join the production company, ending up with a presenting slot in the early hours of the morning. 'I was broadcasting to insomniacs,' smiles Celic, who will speak at PRWeek's Leaders In Communications summit on 20 September.

'But I was interviewing people like David Puttnam about the British film industry. It was an amazing opportunity.'

Now 39, Prudential's director of group public affairs and policy development has the smooth charm of a man with a grounding in TV presenting. But, as becomes apparent as the interview progresses, one with an uncynical vision of the benefits that lobbying can bring to the policy debate.

The son of Serbian immigrants in working class Salford, where 'they don't count the Labour vote, they weigh it', Celic entered politics out of a passionate interest in social mobility issues. He was also understandably concerned about the growing unrest in the Balkans, and joined an MP to help run a Labour 'Friends of Bosnia' group.

Despite his love of politics, Celic decided it did not pay enough and he leapt into the world of consultancy - firstly into a fledgling Finsbury, working for Roland Rudd. 'I might just have taken its employee numbers into double figures,' remembers Celic. 'But it was always obvious they were going to be something special.'

Headland Consultancy partner Neil Hedges worked with Celic in his days at Fishburn Hedges and remembers him having a 'broader hinterland' than many of his contemporaries: 'I always felt his public affairs counsel was based on a good understanding of the broader comms environment - which I have to say is not always the case among the public affairs fraternity.'

Hedges adds that this breadth of interests spreads to being a great conversationalist with a wider view of the world arena.

An agency role at GPC cemented Celic's interest in the wider comms function, alongside a growing frustration at being agency-side. 'Sometimes you don't feel the job is completed,' he says. 'I wanted to be the person in the meeting putting the case, not just advising someone putting the case.'

The opportunity arose to do just that at Water UK, where he was involved in the shifting legislative terrain around water pricing. It was a healthy preparation for Celic's move into the financial sector.

It was 2007 when he joined HSBC, one year before the sub-prime crash, and the world was starting to switch on to the importance of Brussels' role in the moulding of financial services legislation.

'We had a ringside seat during the events of summer 2008,' says Celic, who maintains a 'more cautious' HSBC felt a lot less impact than contemporaries such as RBS and Northern Rock. 'What was obvious very quickly was there was going to be a regulatory response to that and it was important to make sure it wasn't knee-jerk, or the Dangerous Dogs Act of banking.'

In both his HSBC and Prudential roles, Celic has been keen to point out the importance of engaging on 'the bigger philosophical picture', above the details of particular legislation: 'Clearly there's got to be legislation and we will respond on individual elements. But there's a bigger debate - what is the philosophy underpinning this? What are we trying to achieve? There's a massive socioeconomic benefit from the wider financial services sector.'

Celic says there is a growing recognition of this wider picture after the anger that followed the global financial meltdown, adding that Prudential's focus on the less emotive area of insurance affords it space to 'have a much more interesting, nuanced conversation'.

'Someone said to me that to get to an answer on this issue (financial reform) is two Parliaments' worth of thinking. Contributing to that is an enormous privilege, but you're also adding value to the discussion.'

He adds Prudential can feed into all sorts of debates, such as those around the perennial question of an ageing population. However, Celic's focal points at the moment include the more pressing Solvency 2 legislation being worked up in Brussels.

But Celic is quick to point out the most important thing is people 'don't get lost in the detail - there's a bigger picture here'.

The financial services sector would be wise to heed his words, as the fight to improve the sector's reputation is a battle yet to be won across the globe.

CV

2009

Director of group public affairs and policy, Prudential

2007

Manager, government relations, HSBC

2000

Consultant, Fishburn Hedges

1999

Parliamentary and public affairs, Water UK

1997

Account executive, GPC Connect

1996

Account executive, Finsbury

1996

Chief aide, Calum Macdonald MP

1994

Researcher and broadcaster, Barraclough Carey Productions (now
part of Mentorn)

MILES CELIC'S TURNING POINTS

What was your biggest career break?

My first - getting into current affairs broadcasting. It was a terrifically intense and enormously enjoyable learning experience that opened both new doors and new horizons.

Have you had a notable mentor?

There have been so many people that I've been lucky to learn from that it would be unfair to single anyone out. I suspect those people who have been the biggest influence on me know who they are.

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

Be clear about what you want because no-one else is going to manage your career for you. Ask yourself where you want to be and what you want to be doing in five, ten, 15 years' time and what you'll need to drive your career in that direction. Then make it happen.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

An enthusiasm to constructively challenge those around them, especially me. The right chemistry to work collaboratively with others.

A refusal to take themselves too seriously. The ability to be a first-class ambassador and advocate for the team and the company. If they have to manage people, then how would I feel if they were my line manager?

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