Forget gardening leave - until he becomes director of corporate
communications at engineering giant GKN next January, Peter Baillie is
His previous employer, investment bank BZW, released him from his duties
as director of corporate communications when they heard he’d been
poached by GKN’s headhunters. Baillie is clearly delighted to have some
unexpected time with his wife and the 41-foot yacht he bought last week.
So pleased is he with the boat that he suggested doing this interview on
The GKN headhunter’s call came in early July this year - ’long before I
knew what was in store for BZW,’ he says, referring to the bank’s recent
takeover by Credit Suisse. Baillie, 49, stresses that he is glad to have
spent five years in the City, but he is pleased to be returning to a
business which makes products - automotive parts and weapons - with
which he has dealt in previous jobs, and which are tangible.
’I think there’s a huge amount of integrity in actually making things.
The problem of the City, from a PR point of view, is that you can’t
actually go and kick the tyres of anything,’ he reflects.
Baillie learned to love kicking tyres at the company which became Austin
Rover, a place where he also gained his reputation as a crisis
’We had about one (crisis) a week. It was an industrial relations
battleground for Britain, frankly. You found yourself sitting in your
office in Coventry managing a story that was occupying if not dominating
the front pages for days on end. If that doesn’t teach you how to manage
a crisis, nothing will.’
One of the more contentious matters Baillie will have to grapple with in
the near future is a US garage owners’ class action against GKN’s car
exhaust business for breach of contract. A district court has already
awarded them damages reported at nearly dollars US600 million.
An even tougher PR problem for Baillie is the fact that part of GKN’s
business is selling weapons. Having handled PR for Plessey’s defence
division, however, he is familiar with anti-arms trade campaigners’
arguments. He does not want to commit himself on whether the
Government’s supposedly ’ethical’ foreign policy will cause PR
difficulties for GKN, saying only ’we’ll have to wait and see’.
Does he personally worry about the morality of selling weapons? ’The
short answer is no. What you’re selling to people is a means to defend
themselves. You are providing for the most basic human instinct,’ he
During his stint at BZW the number of people working on corporate
communications was doubled from five to ten, and Baillie says that he
will argue more resources from GKN if it is necessary. He is used to
being taken seriously by his bosses: ’If there’s one thing that really
pisses me off when I read PR Week, it’s people who bleat ’when will
people take PR seriously?’.
I don’t think that not being on the board denies a PR person any
Baillie is reluctant to commit himself on whether he will use PR
agencies, until he knows more of GKN. However he points out that at BZW
he decided not to use an agency in the UK, ’because I know the press
quite well and I had a very good head of media affairs working with me.
It was hard to imagine how a PR consultancy could have added value.’
At BZW Baillie did, however, hire PR agencies outside the UK, in
countries where BZW lacked strong in-house expertise. He is already
clear that because GKN doesn’t have enormous media exposure, ’the
priority is getting the internal communications right and making sure
that people understand what the firm’s about, what the strategy is, what
the vision for it is’.
With some 35,000 people working for GKN subsidiaries in 40 countries
around the world that is, as Baillie says, ’an interesting
Director of PR for defence division at Plessey
Director of PR for GEC (which took over Plessey)
Corporate affairs director United Distillers
Director of corporate communications, BZW
Director of corporate communications, GKN