PROFILE: Harris Diamond, Weber Shandwick - Diamond relishes the corporate challenge

Harris Diamond's move away from the stump is providing new excitement

Harris Diamond lives in what might be termed the chief executive area of Connecticut - a decent commute into Manhattan, but far enough from the smoke to guarantee greenery and no traffic. The global CEO of Weber Shandwick counts as neighbours his counterparts at Ketchum and Burson-Marsteller.

To be more precise, Connecticut is his notional home, but with direct responsibility for 3,000 people across every area of the world, he spends three fifths of each month travelling. His children are aged 14, 12 and seven, although the impression he gives is that the last time he saw them they were 13, 11 and six - and the next time they meet they'll have hit 15, 13 and eight.

His route to the top of his profession marks Diamond out as a political animal, with both a small and a large P. He was a lawyer and assistant to the New York district attorney in the early 1980s, and remains a member of the state bar. After that, the firm Democrat became a political consultant, as a partner at the then lobbying shop Sawyer Miller. Through a spate of transactions in the US PR sector, Diamond ended up with a succession of senior roles. These saw him move from Sawyer Miller to the then Bozell Sawyer Miller Group, on to BSMG Worldwide and - when BSMG's parent True North Communications was acquired by Weber Shandwick owner The Interpublic Group (IPG) - to being CEO of the biggest PR firm in the world.

Winning that particular accolade surprised some in the industry, if only because BSMG was much smaller than the Weber Shandwick empire by which it was ostensibly swallowed. One former colleague puts this oddity down to two factors: 'First, he is politically astute and, although no visionary, he is the ultimate pragmatist. And second, he knows that what drives holding companies is profit - when he ran BSMG I've no doubt it was the most profitable large PR business in the world.'

Although Diamond's demeanour, dress and confidence identify him as a stereotypical New York agency boss, he comes across as cautious, even risk-averse, compared with others who have rashly bet the ranch on building businesses of their own. This may account for his new found status as the golden boy of IPG, a company that is in need of some dreary attention to detail.

IPG got itself into a financial pickle late last year when it was forced, under pressure from an investigation by the SEC, to restate its earnings and review how it accounted for acquisition-derived income. It has now promoted Diamond to oversee its entire portfolio of PR interests, along with giving him a seat on the group board: 'We are working through those issues. There are still strides to be made in financial rigour. Is the job done? No. It's a work in progress.'

He now works shoulder to shoulder again with David Bell, the chief exec of IPG and formerly of True North, who, like Diamond, ran the smaller of the two merging operations back in 2001. In part because of this connection, more than one former colleague tips him to be given the top job at IPG eventually. 'He is no flamboyant entrepreneur but he is driven,' says Nan Williams, who with colleagues at the then Charles Barker sold her business to Diamond's voraciously acquisitive BSMG in 1997. 'He is there to win, to be number one. He is happy to be patient but I've never seen anyone stand in his way.'

The high point of Diamond's working life, if how animated he gets when talking about it is any guide, has to be the election campaigns he advised on at Sawyer Miller. He worked on gubernatorial and senate campaigns, as well as on a range of campaigns for foreign governments and political parties. Explaining the switch from stump spinner to corporate suit, Diamond says: 'Political campaigning was in my blood, but having done a lot of it I thought I could get that excitement from corporate life. What's driven me is whether the work is interesting, challenging and fun.' That, and the restless ambition to reach higher and higher in the organisation he works for.

Above all, Diamond is the closest thing there is to a career PR man at or near the top of a major marketing group. At 50, he appears ready and waiting to fill Bell's shoes when his 60-year-old boss and mentor retires.

Is that what he's plotting for? 'I'm pretty content for now. I'm already on a plane 60 per cent of the time,' he says.

Take that as a yes, then.

HIGHLIGHTS

1982: Assistant to the District Attorney, New York

1987: Partner, Sawyer Miller

1988: Campaign consultant, Israeli Labour Party

1998: Chief executive, BSMG

2001: Chief executive, Weber Shandwick

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