Profile: Charles Naylor, chief communications officer, Credit Suisse Group

When Charles Naylor takes up his new job in Zurich as chief communications officer at Credit Suisse Group on 6 December, he will have just a day to prepare for what could be one of the financial community's most dramatic rebranding announcements. Credit Suisse Group chief executive Oswald Grubel is set to announce the financial services giant's new strategy. There has been a flurry of speculation that it will sell insurance arm Winterthur and scrap First Boston from the name of iconic investment banking arm Credit Suisse First Boston. Grubel has yet to garner the ruthless reputation of his former co-chief executive John Mack - dubbed 'Mack the knife' after returning CSFB to profitability by cutting jobs and pay packets - who left the company in June after three years.

The group is eager to regain its reputation as one of the biggest players in investment banking. It will be a defining moment for the firm and Naylor, who is candid, self-assured and affable, will be right in the thick of it.

Having been made redundant as Centrica corporate affairs director in June, Naylor is spending what remains of his leisure time searching for a flat to house him and his wife and two children in Zurich while rehearsing for a North London production of the Mozart opera Don Giovanni in which he is due to appear this Saturday.

Sitting in the calm environs of his quintessentially English 14th Century converted cottage in St Albans, Naylor says he only met the Credit Suisse Group comms team last week and claims to be oblivious about what the Swiss will do in just three weeks' time. 'I know absolutely nothing about what the strategic options are but it is a great financial services institution that seems to be moving in the right direction from a communications point of view,' he says.

Naylor, whose PR career started at 30 after a five-year spell as a baritone with, among others, the Vienna State Opera, says the 'chemistry' he found in the meeting with his new employers was based around the German language and a mutual love of opera.

Former NGT director and Energy and Utilities Skills chairman John Wybrew describes Naylor as a 'safe pair of hands'. Wybrew, who was with Naylor in his very first comms job at Shell, refers to his 'balanced and informed view' and ability 'not to get caught in any trap'.

What is certain is that Naylor is no stranger to starting from scratch.

He joined Centrica as director of corporate affairs in 1998, a year after it demerged from British Gas, and had to help convince the City and the media that its transformation into a conglomerate - also encompassing the AA, credit card firm Goldfish, telecoms company One.Tel and Direct Energy was a good idea.

'You can imagine how difficult it was getting people to understand the sense of a gas firm buying a roadside recovery business,' Naylor says of Centrica's 1999 acquisition of the AA for £1.1bn. 'The AA really made people sit up and think "well goodness, these guys are competent when it comes to logistics and customer services in all sorts of ways".'

But if the AA was Naylor's greatest triumph, it was also the deal that put paid to his Centrica career. Naylor says that the costs and restructuring that followed Centrica's decision to sell the business in 2003 for a profit of around £650m were key factors in Centrica CEO Sir Roy Gardner's decision to axe his role and hand his responsibilities to then Europe MD Simon Lewis (PRWeek, 11 June). Lewis stayed just four months in the director of communications and public policy role created for him and is set to become Vodafone director of corporate affairs.

Naylor insists there was no 'ill will' between him and Lewis who remain good friends. He contends that 'a five-year stint is a pretty good period' and that 'you stay fresher if you go into a new role'.

Naylor must hope that will be the case when he takes over comms for one of Switzerland's financial powerhouses as it tries to reposition itself and stake out its brand in the unforgiving world of investment banking.

It will certainly take more than a shared love of opera to carry Naylor and the Credit Suisse Group team through that.

RESUME

1982 Junior principal baritone, Vienna State Opera

1987 Franchise manager, Shell UK

1991 Advertising and PR manager, Shell UK

1992 Corporate affairs head, Amerada Hess

1998 Corporate affairs director, Centrica

2004 Chief communications officer, Credit Suisse Group

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