Paul Holmes

Nides' departure should not dissuade firms from considering 'outsiders' for the top post

Nides' departure should not dissuade firms from considering 'outsiders' for the top post

The departure of Tom Nides, less than nine months into his tenure as CEO of Burson-Marsteller, has already prompted some discussion regarding the wisdom of hiring an "outsider" to one of the most visible leadership positions in our industry.

Nides, you may recall, had been chief administrative officer at Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) before being hired to fill Chris Komisarjevsky's shoes at Burson. In his previous role, he had responsibility for a wide variety of functions, including - but certainly not limited to - corporate communications. He had worked with PR pros - both in-house and at firms - but had no personal experience working within the agency business.

One could make the case that because his roots and the majority of his experience were outside the agency world, his commitment to our business was lower than that of an agency veteran. But that's dangerously close to saying that his experience in the outside world gave him more options - and that, by extension, the people best suited to run PR agencies are those who don't have so many choices.

Nides, of course, had other options at the time he took the Burson job. And the option that ended up luring him away was exceptional, one nobody could have predicted nine months ago: the opportunity to reunite with his former boss John Mack - whose right hand he was at CSFB - and help bring one of America's proudest financial companies, Morgan Stanley, back from the brink. It's a challenge few could have resisted and it would be a shame if Nides' exit became an excuse to limit the search for agency leadership to those with agency roots.

By all accounts, Nides had won over the majority of the leadership team at Burson, and had done so relatively quickly. Certainly Harold Burson considered himself a fan - and that alone is good enough for me. Nides wasn't the agency's best PR person, but there's no reason the CEO should be. I'd make the case that most big-agency CEOs have direct reports who are better practitioners than they are.

Moreover, Burson has a cadre of senior professionals - Richard Mintz, Ken Rietz, and Heidi Sinclair from the US part of the business; Per Heggenes and Carlos Lareau in Europe; Bill Rylance in the Asia-Pacific region; as well as a host of practice leaders with the PR talent and management skills to run a PR business of their own. What it didn't have - and now doesn't have again - is someone with Nides' broader business experience.

All of which is to say that while WPP should consider strong internal candidates to replace Nides at Burson's helm, it should not exclude smart, motivated "outsiders" because of this one unfortunate experience.

  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 17 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of

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