Adele Biss refuses point blank to be photographed next to the IGA plaque
still nailed to the door of Ian Greer’s Westminster office.
‘It’s a completely new company,’ she protests, referring to her firm AS
Biss and Company, which has risen from the ashes of Ian Greer
And what Biss wants, Biss gets. Behind the five foot two ‘mumsie’
exterior lies a will of steel. The photographer backs down and meekly
ushers her to pose in another spot.
The former British Tourist Authority chairman was driving home from a
swimming lesson four Sundays ago when a report on the embattled lobbyist
came on the radio and she decided she wanted IGA.
‘I felt it could not be that a company that had done so well in the past
and had such a long standing client base did not have something worth
rescuing,’ she explains. ‘It was a turnaround situation which appealed
The next day Biss left a board meeting at the Yorkshire fish and chips
empire Harry Ramsden, where she is a non-executive director, to call
Greer. Three days later they met for the first time and a deal was
discussed. Biss moved in to his premises and has spent the past two
weeks ‘stemming the haemorrhaging’ by persuading IGA’s remaining six
staff, and clients including British Airways, to stick with her.
Desks are bare at 19 Catherine Place, the reception is deserted and a
dog belonging to surviving IGA member Jeremy Sweeney lolls, with a
mournful expression, at the top of the stairs.
But Biss is leaving IGA’s ghosts behind. She is close to securing a new
Westminster pad ‘with a more modern feel’ and plans to move in during
the next two weeks and start hiring.
She is no stranger to starting from scratch. Eighteen years ago, she and
Graham Lancaster scraped the funds together to start Biss Lancaster, now
a top ten agency.
Nine years later Biss quit the PR company. She went on to hold a number
of non-executive directorships at several companies including British
Rail, and in 1993 landed the high profile job of chairman of the British
Tourist Authority (BTA).
Heritage Secretary Virginia Bottomley did not re-appoint her when her
contract came to an end in May. But BTA staff describe Biss as ‘a
champion for tourism’. They also recall her as being ‘very astute, with
a strategic brain’.
Charles Barker chairman and personal friend Angela Heylin agrees: ‘You
are not bowled over by the initial package,’ she says on meeting Biss.
‘She’s not a power dresser, but talk to her and you’ll realise you are
facing someone with a fine intellect and a great deal of common sense.’
Others are less complimentary. ‘You either like her or you don’t,’ says
one former colleague. ‘She can be difficult. Her way is the right way,
which is fine if you are an account executive, but difficult for more
Another insider expressed doubts that Biss’ intellect alone will be
sufficient to gain entry to the cliquey, male-dominated world of
‘It’s a very different type of business,’ he states, referring to her
consumer and travel experience. ‘It’s all about relationships and
contacts so she’ll have to drive it from her existing client base.’
But Biss is not claiming to be a lobbying expert. ‘I know more about
public affairs than I did about PR when I started Biss Lancaster’, was
her response to the PR industry’s surprise at the deal.
As I leave we are standing in the corridor chatting when Greer appears,
squeezes past and silently vanishes upstairs. I ask why he is there and
she snaps back: ‘he’s doing whatever he’s doing’.
In a second the conversation is back on her new company and Biss is
brandishing a stack of good luck letters from MPs, clients, and even a
The phone is ringing. ‘Hear that?’ she says. ‘That means business.’ You
can’t help feeling that the feisty 52-year-old may just pull it off.
1968 Graduate trainee, Unilever
1978 Co-founder, Biss Lancaster
1985 Director, Aegis
1993 Chairman, British Tourist Authority/English Tourist Board
1996 Chairman, AS Biss and Company