Karma's Charles Watson to chair Teneo International and eyeing major London expansion

Former Karma Communications chairman Charles Watson has been appointed to chair Teneo International, the international division of Teneo Holdings, and is targeting major growth in London as a priority.

Charles Watson: Will chair Teneo International
Charles Watson: Will chair Teneo International

Watson told PRWeek that the UK office, which currently employs around 30 people, could grow to the size of the New York HQ, which has around 250 employees. Growth could be organic or through acquisitions, and expansion would also be sought in the Middle East, Asia and Brussels.

Watson’s arrival at Teneo International will see him reunited with co-founder Declan Kelly, the former US special envoy to Northern Ireland. Both men worked together at Financial Dynamics – Kelly as chief executive, and Watson as group CEO – before its sale to FTI Consulting in 2006.

"At Financial Dynamics we had a very successful team," Watson told PRWeek. "A very successful working relationship has been rekindled."

Teneo International's client list includes major global firms such as Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical Company, UBS and Chinese online retail giant Alibaba Group. The firm advises on areas such as strategic comms around reputation and shareholder value issues; digital strategy and analytics consulting; geo-political risk intelligence; corporate restructuring and investment banking; sports advisory and corporate diversity and inclusion.

Watson will be based in the firm’s London office, which will continue to be led by Richard Beck. The company said Watson’s role would "include leading Teneo’s planned expansion outside the US".

Watson said the London office "could be bigger". "In terms of priorities London is absolutely key. We could have a business the same size as New York in London."

He said expansion "could include acquisitions as well as building organically" and added that the Middle East was a "very critical market for us, as is Asia, as is Brussels".

Yesterday PRWeek’s sister title Campaign reported that Watson has stepped down as chairman of Karma Communications after about five years. Watson told PRWeek that the time was right to leave because he had succeeded in his aim of building that business up, and he was ready for a new challenge at Teneo International.

Watson said he remained a "very significant shareholder" in Karma, which includes the PR agency Kaper.

Of the new appointment, Kelly said: "As someone with whom I have partnered closely and successfully in the past, and a highly experienced and successful business leader in the context of building professional consulting businesses on a global basis, [Watson] will be an invaluable addition to our senior leadership team."

Watson said: "Teneo’s approach is without doubt defining a new model for strategic consulting and it provides an extraordinarily exciting platform from which to now build a truly global business."

Watson will not be replaced at Karma. His responsibilities will be picked up by Jon Wilkins, the executive chairman, and Jim Kelly, the non-executive director.

Karma’s CEO Ben Bilboul said: "Charles has played a key role in helping to assemble the various components that today comprise the Karma Comms Group – including the completion of four significant acquisitions and the hiring of Jon Wilkins and Jim Kelly to the board. We will all greatly miss his contribution to our business and our culture but, as a significant shareholder and investor in the business, he will remain a close friend and supporter of the agency."

Watson added: "Karma and the many talented colleagues I have worked with over the past three years will always hold a very special place in my heart. It has been a hugely inspirational place. Under Ben’s leadership and with a world class team now in place – including agency chairman Jon Wilkins and Jim Kelly, who recently joined the board – the business is in strong and very capable hands.

"As one of its greatest supporters I will watch with great interest Karma’s continuing progress and development as one of the UK’s leading independent marketing communications agencies."

Teneo was founded in 2011 by Kelly and Douglas Band, the top comms adviser for former US President Bill Clinton, as well as Paul Keary, a former senior MD of FTI Consulting. Clinton and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair had served on the advisory board for the group.

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