Profile: Martin Sixsmith, GEC - GEC pulls BBC star into orbit/Martin Sixsmith enters the corporate world to redefine GEC’s image

Martin Sixsmith will be a familiar face to most readers from his many years as a BBC foreign correspondent. His reports have captured history in the making on television, spanning politics, natural disasters and conflict.

Martin Sixsmith will be a familiar face to most readers from his

many years as a BBC foreign correspondent. His reports have captured

history in the making on television, spanning politics, natural

disasters and conflict.



For a week in 1991 he reported on the collapse of the Soviet Union from

outside the besieged Russian White House, as the Communist coup plotters

held Mikhail Gorbachev prisoner and Boris Yeltsin emerged to address the

crowd dramatically from the back of a tank. Later that same year, it was

off to Washington to cover the election of Bill Clinton and his first

term as president.



It is because of another news story that I go to meet him in his office

at the Department of Social Security on Whitehall, where he has been

information director for the last year.



Last month industrial conglomerate GEC announced the sale of its Marconi

defence business to British Aerospace for pounds 8 billion.



GEC now needs to reposition itself in the media and its chief executive

Lord Simpson wanted a communications heavy hitter to get the job

done.



Step forward Sixsmith, who on 22 March joins GEC as media relations

head.



’It’s going to be a high-growth, high-margin, hi-tech big player in the

telecoms and electronics market,’ says Sixsmith of his future

employer.



Sixsmith will report to group communications director Sir Geoffrey

Pattie, a former Tory defence minister, who was until recently GEC’s

head of marketing. With 17 years of BBC experience behind him, it is

expected that Sixsmith will get a more or less free hand in running the

media function.



For now, however, Sixsmith is still up to his eyeballs at the DSS. There

are endless issues related to the Welfare Reform Bill to be dealt

with.



Sixsmith joined the DSS from the BBC in January 1998 after deciding it

was time for a change from foreign affairs broadcasting. ’As a foreign

correspondent there is a limit to the number of postings you can do. I’d

done Russia twice, Washington for four years and Brussels for four. And

anything you do after that is a bit of a let down.’ Moreover, as a

father of four he wanted stability for the family. But reporting on

domestic matters simply did not appeal.



The feeling of ’euphoria’ that followed Labour’s landslide election

victory of 1997 encouraged him to make a move into government

communications (it is important to note he is a civil servant, not a

special adviser a la Charlie Whelan). It was, by his own admission, a

’turbulent’ baptism as he worked initially for the embattled Social

Security Secretary Harriet Harman. ’It was an impossible task,’ recalls

Sixsmith. ’I think Harriet had been very badly damaged by the lone

parents cuts. She got a very bad press for that and the backbench Labour

party turned against her.’



Harman was soon on her way, to be replaced by Alistair Darling, a man

whom Sixsmith describes as one of the ’intellectually and

presentationally brilliant members of this Government’. Together,

Darling and Sixsmith have been drip-feeding announcements on welfare

reform to the media since last summer ’to keep the momentum going’.



Mike Granatt, head of the Government Information and Communications

Service says: ’He’s impressed everybody with his intellect and ability

to get to grips with issues and people very quickly.’



In person, Sixsmith still resembles a hack more than a corporate

executive.



He wears brown shoes with a dark suit and documents are piled untidily

all over his office floor.



Sixsmith’s CV reads like a list of great educational institutions of the

world: the Sorbonne, Oxford and Harvard - with a year at the Leningrad

Polytechnical Institute thrown in as part of his Russian studies; which,

along with Polish and French, he speaks fluently.



Author of a twice-reprinted book on the death of the Soviet Union,

Sixsmith is clearly exceptionally bright. No wonder GEC’s headhunters

wanted to get hold of him.



HIGHLIGHTS

1988

Moscow correspondent, BBC

1991

Washington correspondent, BBC

1998

Information director, Department of Social Security

1999

Media relations head, GEC



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