Fred Hill's early career was spent on the police force, then at a Pittsburgh law firm. Now, he's JP Morgan Chase's comms head. The one constant - his job has always been about protecting viewpoints.When Fred Hill speaks, he can sound like he is addressing a classroom, or perhaps making opening remarks to a jury. He has done both, in a career that took him from the Pennsylvania State Police to a large law firm in Pittsburgh to the top communications job at JP Morgan Chase. He has also served as an adjunct professor, and on former Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh's (R) pardons board. With an instinctively organized presentation style, frequently distilling complex points down to three basic ideas for listeners, Hill manages to make his measured cadence sound not polished, and definitely not rehearsed, but persuasive and confident. Seemingly unflappable, he's the kind of man who you would probably like to be facing the camera crews at 3am. Being a trained and experienced lawyer, he says, has its advantages. "The process of legal education and the practice of law is important in helping you understand the other side of any argument," he says. "Also, a lot of corporate lawyers have the final say in companies, and generally they will present some legal standard or rationale as to why you can't communicate certain things. I'm in a situation where I can often challenge those rationales and sometimes change the decision." Hill may never have entered the PR profession at all but for a law career that took him out of conventional courtroom contests to a lobbying role that led him to his present vocation. "My initial goal was to become a prosecutor," he says of his plans after leaving law school at the University of Pittsburgh, where he went while working as a state policeman. "But I got an offer I couldn't refuse from this large corporate law firm in Pittsburgh, and ended up specializing in labor law and corporate or commercial-transaction litigation." He stuck with that firm for a couple of years and served on the pardons board, which advised the governor on clemency recommendations. In 1980, Hill joined Westinghouse, where the nature of his job changed significantly, and began to take on more of the characteristics of a senior PR practitioner. "When I changed jobs then, my actual practice of law in the traditional sense stopped," he says. "As a corporate lawyer, you're acting more as a counselor. But my work on the pardons board allowed me to stay to some extent with the practice of law." Hill moved to Washington, DC for Westinghouse, where he engaged in lobbying work that caught the attention of Gary Clark, who would become acting CEO of the company in 1993. "The company was in the throes of a big financial crisis, and the board of directors got rid of the chairman and CEO," Hill recalls. "Clark had seen me in action when I was lobbying on a key piece of legislation that would impact one of his businesses." Clark asked him to take on the marketing communications work for Westinghouse during this difficult period for the company. Recruited away from Westinghouse by McDonnell Douglas, Hill would soon work on one of two mergers that he considers professional highlights. One of the aspects of his career he confesses to enjoying most is the planning of major announcements. In 1996, the company was acquired by Boeing, and Hill's team handled much of the PR planning for the news. "It is one of the only times I can recall when the stock of both companies went up after the announcement," he says. Following that merger, Hill joined Chase Manhattan Bank, which would later merge with JP Morgan. This transaction meant marrying two formidable and recognizable brands. Hill has learned that companies undergoing this kind of change cannot rely on gut instinct or brand affinity to dictate future identity. "You can't just go with your intuition; you have to do research. Take your emotion out of it," he says. "When we did the testing, we discovered both brands were very strong. Once we figured that out, it became a no-brainer. Of course, you couldn't name it Chase JP Morgan, because that sounds like a sentence." Though somewhat disparate, Hill's wide-ranging professional experiences have a common theme. "It's all advocacy when you think about it. All representing a point of view, understanding what the opposing points of view are, and trying to convince people that your point of view should prevail," he says. "That's true in a classroom, talking to a reporter, advising a client on a particular transaction, in a court of law, or when you're developing a marketing strategy for a Fortune 500 company." While some PR professionals shy away from the term "advocacy," preferring to believe that they retain some semblance of journalistic objectivity, Hill maintains that there is nothing wrong with declaring partisanship. "You get paid by a corporation to represent its interests, and there is nothing dishonorable about that so long as you conduct yourself in an honorable manner." Hill speaks glowingly about the worldwide team he runs. "You have to have people around you who share your values," he says, identifying in particular those who embrace his brand of principled advocacy. "Never, ever lie," he says. You can't be dishonest to people. Say nothing rather than mislead." ----- Fred Hill 1997-present EVP, JP Morgan Chase & Co. (started at Chase) 1995-1997 SVP, communications and community relations, McDonnell Douglas 1980-1995 Senior corporate relations executive, Westinghouse Electric Corp. 1978-1980 Attorney, Rosele Schmidt Dixon, Pittsburgh 1975-1978 Pennsylvania State police officer (while attending law school)
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