Profile: Peter Jones, BUPA - Flying the BA coop for BUPA/Peter Jones departs BA to offer a corporate cure for private healthcare

When PR Week last profiled BUPA’s new head of corporate communications Peter Jones 18 months ago his career at British Airways was already experiencing turbulence.

When PR Week last profiled BUPA’s new head of corporate

communications Peter Jones 18 months ago his career at British Airways

was already experiencing turbulence.



A veteran of the Lord King/Colin Marshall partnership and former chief

press officer to BA’s infamous director of public affairs David

Burnside, Jones had outlasted them all only to find himself sidelined by

BA’s new chief executive Robert Ayling.



Jones started his career in airlines as an air steward before moving

into PR with a job on BA’s in-house magazine. He moved into consultancy

with Good Relations Technology in 1983. An eight-year stint at Valin

Pollen followed, but Jones’ heart was always in the airline business and

he was lured back to BA by Burnside in 1993. Jonathan Russell, who

worked under Jones at BA as PR manager, describes him as the

department’s administrative lynchpin. ’David was the strategy man, very

close to the board. Peter was the man who kept the machine well oiled,’

he says.



The contrast between the quintessentially English Jones - who could

often be seen in the champagne tent at Lords cricket ground - and the

dour Ulster man Burnside, could not have been more marked. ’Everybody

liked him (Jones) a lot,’ says Harvey Elliott of the Times. ’He was a

bit of a smoothie - very urbane.’



Even Virgin’s director of corporate affairs, Will Whitehorn, while

admitting he didn’t know him well, describes Jones as ’a very decent

man’.



Indeed, perhaps Jones’ greatest achievement was the way he pulled

together BA’s shell-shocked PR team after Burnside took the rap for the

Virgin affair and left in 1993 - closely followed by Lord King. With

internal communications devolved to Burnside’s deputy Tony Cocklin,

Jones set about - in Cocklin’s words - getting BA’s image ’back on

track’.



A recognised expert on crisis and issues management, Jones was known for

his forthright approach. ’He was never afraid to talk straight to senior

management,’ adds Cocklin. Although this, perhaps, gives a clue to

Jones’ lack of progress under Marshall’s successor as chief executive,

Bob Ayling.



As one source close to Ayling puts it: ’Bob thought Peter was too

negative.’ He adds that Jones’s preference for getting on with the job

rather than attending meetings was also noted. ’There was a feeling

perhaps that Jones wasn’t a team player. Not externally - externally he

was BA from top to bottom, but internally he would occasionally take a

different position, and Ayling likes yes men.’



A reshuffle by Ayling at the beginning of last year left Jones in the

position of caretaker for the role of director of communications while

BA recruited externally. Crucially, he had also lost his direct line to

the chief executive’s office - reporting instead to David Holmes,

director of corporate resources.



In the end Jones lost out to AEA’s Kevin Murray and by January he was

gone. Those who know him insist he was treated very badly. Others

thought that Ayling was bound to want his own people and had needed

someone who was more of a ’lateral thinker’.



What is clear is that Jones has not lacked job offers - he is said to

have turned down the top communications job at both Conservative Central

Office and, more recently, the Millennium Commission. Some speculate his

decision to plump for BUPA heralds a period of intense corporate

activity - perhaps even an acquisition. Perhaps the real attraction lies

in the fact that, like BA, BUPA is virtually a generic brand in private

healthcare insurance.



With a new Government apparently prepared to think the unthinkable when

it comes to reform of the NHS and a series of measures in the budget

which could hit the private healthcare business hard, one thing is

certain - Jones is back at the centre of things.



HIGHLIGHTS

1993

Head of PR, British Airways

1996

Acting public affairs director, British Airways

1996

Head of corporate communications, BA

1997

Head of corporate communications, BUPA



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