Profile: Nick West, Boeing - Straight-talking West is master of his brief

Military training has prepared Boeing comms director to think on his feet.

Boeing's newly appointed UK communications director Nick West is a former Royal Marine who has flown helicopters in the world's trouble spots, is well-versed in the intricacies of defence procurement and has even handled the PR fallout from the Duke of Edinburgh's infamous 'Indian and the fusebox' gaffe.

And with a reputation for straight-talking reliability, he appears every bit the man to help promote the company through the aviation industry's continuing economic problems.

With the stereotypical stiff upper lip of a former officer, he gives short shrift to worries about difficult times - Boeing has laid off over 35,000 staff in the past two years and is forecasting 2004 sales down by £1.2bn to around £32bn.

He says: 'I think most businesses have significant issues to address. I've worked in lots of different, and difficult, business environments.'

West is also guarded about strategy, saying only that he will support Boeing in whatever ways he can on the commercial and defence sides of the business.

Counting golf, photography and travel with his family among his interests, West says the qualities that will help him at Boeing include a nose for a good story and an ability to communicate it clearly. 'If you can get your point across to people in a reliable way that's honest, robust and stands up, and is something that a journalist can use and trusts, that's a recipe for success.'

West comes across as very much the officer as he explains in clipped tones how he got into PR from a military background. He began his military career as a lieutenant in the Territorial Army, where he stayed through a business studies degree. After graduating in 1986, he joined the Royal Marines the following year, serving as a troop commander in Northern Ireland and Brunei, before becoming a staff officer for the Navy's presentation board.

There West gained his first experience of communications. 'It was a lot of fun. We went round the country presenting the Navy's case, so it was probably a public relations-type job,' he says. It involved explaining to schools, universities and businesses the reasons for having a navy of its size at the time, and changes such as the introduction of Trident and women going to sea.

After a four-year spell flying helicopters in Northern Ireland and Iraqi Kurdistan - where he helped provide aerial support for aid distribution at the end of the first Gulf War, he left the Marines in 1996. Responding to an ad for a press officer at electronics manufacturer Racal, he got his first designated comms job, where his experience proved invaluable.

'They wanted somebody who had a military background, who'd been involved in using technology, and someone who could write. I'd been a pilot, so I knew a lot about the systems that Racal produced,' he says.

At Racal, West handled PR for the group's radio, electro-accoustics, radar and command systems divisions. He also got his first taste of managing a minor crisis, when the Duke of Edinburgh made his bizarre remark that a fuse box looked as if it had been 'put in by an Indian', while visiting a Racal Edinburgh facility in 1999.

'You never quite know what the story is, says West. 'It doesn't matter how well you plan, there is always some unforeseen circumstance, such as a jibe like that, which can overtake the story.'

Racal was then taken over by French defence contractor Thomson-CSF and renamed Thales in December 2000. At this point, the then senior media relations manager got the experience that stood him in good stead for his new job. Promoted to the position of deputy communications director on the strength of his contacts and experience, West became responsible for handling PR for major defence contract bids, including that for two new aircraft carriers, worth £2.8bn. The Ministry of Defence awarded the contract jointly to Thales and BAe in February this year. Given that Thales is a French company, its lead contractor status was considered a triumph at the time.

Defence editor of Flight International magazine Stewart Penney says of West: 'Nick holds his brief very well. He gets you what you need, he's professional and doesn't bullshit. He's someone you can rely on to help when you need it.

'He has a lot of experience in the UK aerospace and defence industries and knows a lot of people. He's good at mastering what he needs to know,' Penney adds.

West says: 'The role for me will be healthy and challenging, addressing some stakeholder communities, but as part of a wider team, rather than necessarily having responsibility for that myself.'

While relishing getting stuck into his new role, it's clear that whatever enthusiasm the former military man feels inside will be carefully kept in check publicly.

HIGHLIGHTS

1987: Lieutenant, The Royal Marines

1996: Press officer, Racal

2000: Deputy comms director, Thales

2003: Comms director, UK and Ireland Boeing

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