Profile: Baroness Denton of Wakefield, Burson-Marsteller - Rejoining her PR peer group/Baroness Denton returns to her PR roots at Burson-Marsteller Europe

Baroness Denton of Wakefield stepped into a new post at Burson-Marsteller last week - managing director of B-M Europe - but was still waiting for her own office. However the small matter of a lack of desk space was not enough to prevent her flying out to Copenhagen to plot strategy with a client.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield stepped into a new post at

Burson-Marsteller last week - managing director of B-M Europe - but was

still waiting for her own office. However the small matter of a lack of

desk space was not enough to prevent her flying out to Copenhagen to

plot strategy with a client.



Among the B-M Europe clients she may eventually deal with are Andersen

Consulting, Unilever, Zeneca and Philip Morris. Her new role involves

’being a source of value to the European team and relating what they are

doing to the world in which they operate’, she says cryptically.



This seems to mean drawing on her experience of industry and government

to give strategic advice to colleagues and potentially all of B-M

Europe’s clients. The role is a sensitive one, as she acknowledges.

’There will be an internal tightrope to walk, making sure that people

realise I’m here to help and not to criticise,’ she says. But her

five-page CV hints at the wealth of contacts and knowledge on which she

can call.



Returning to Burson-Marsteller is a major shift from her previous job in

the former Government as Minister for the Economy, Agriculture and

Women’s Issues in Northern Ireland. But Burson-Marsteller clearly wants

her to maintain Parliamentary contacts.



’It’s very important in this job to keep in touch with the Lords. I

don’t want to lose that,’ she says. Denton will continue to speak in the

House on subjects that interest her, including women’s issues and

Northern Ireland.



She retains the politician’s way of responding to journalists by saying

exactly what she wants to say, without being goaded into any unplanned

statements. For example, Denton had apparently decided to give PR Week

the message that she is pleased to be back at Burson-Marsteller. This

may well be true, not least because her own political career began

turning sour earlier this year. There were calls for her resignation

following controversy about discrimination against a Catholic employee

in her office.



After the election, her criticisms of a Catholic civil servant in the

running for a top job caused further outrage. ’Because of that incident,

people (in Northern Ireland) would have very mixed feelings about her,’

says a source in Northern Ireland politics, who went on to add that

Denton was ’hardworking’ and ’reasonably effective’, especially in terms

of encouraging industrial development in the province.



Denton agrees that the so-called discrimination episode hurt her

reputation.



’I think it left damage, yes. I thought that people trusted me.’



John Major appointed her a working peer in 1990, so that she could help

guide Government business through the Lords. She has measured praise for

both Margaret Thatcher and Major, saying she feels ’closer to him than

her’, but that she is a ’great fan of Thatcher. I could never have done

what she achieved’.



That may be too modest. Prior to her government career, Denton held a

terrifyingly large number of public and private sector appointments,

including a directorship at British Nuclear Fuels, and jobs at Austin

Rover, IPC Magazines and the Economist Intelligence Unit. She even

worked as a professional racing driver between 1967 and 1971.



These days her extra-curricular activities are less dangerous, but

consciousness that she is 61 seems to have made her more driven than

ever to achieve.



’The one lesson that age brings is - do not waste a single minute,’ she

says. ’If I don’t do this properly now and finish it I might not have

another chance.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1967-1971

Professional racing driver, twice British Women Racing Driver’s Champion

1985

External affairs director, Austin Rover

1990

Appointed as a working peer

1994

Minister for the Economy, Agriculture and Women’s Issues in Northern

Ireland

1997

Managing director, Burson-Marsteller Europe.



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