Hill+Knowlton Strategies names Simon Whitehead as UK CEO

Hill+Knowlton Strategies (H+K) has promoted its global energy boss Simon Whitehead to UK chief executive.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies UK chief executive Simon Whitehead.
Hill+Knowlton Strategies UK chief executive Simon Whitehead.

Whitehead has led the agency's energy and industries practice as MD for the past seven years, and as global energy lead for the past 18 months.

He takes the helm of the 300-strong business from Richard Millar, who was promoted to global president alongside Lars Erik Grønntun in September.

His promotion comes after transforming the H+K London energy and industrials team, which has gown five-fold under his tenure and boasts a client list that includes Shell, Hitachi, ICMM, OGCI and E.ON.

H+K global president Jack Martin said Whitehead has proved "undisputedly his leadership abilities".

"He is held in high regard by clients and colleagues alike and his ability to motivate and mobilise teams to deliver exceptional work is outstanding," Martin said.

Whitehead told PRWeek he inherits the wheel of a "very robust UK business" after a decade under the guidance of Millar, who he holds in high regard as "a source of incredible counsel, wisdom and experience". Recently, Millar claimed H+K UK has posted four record years of growth in a row and is on track to achieve a fifth – a leading light across H+K global business.

Whitehead said he will bring to the role a track record in building successful teams and a collaborative and "firm but fair" approach to management.

"My last seven years here have been about the energies and industrials practice. When I came it in it wasn’t a very large practice...and the team and I have built that practice to five times the size," he said. "One of the secrets to that is being willing to collaborate very effectively in terms of all the services and innovation we offer.

"I want to bring people to the team in ways that our clients might not expect...within my team I’m known as firm but fair and someone who loves to focus on high-quality work and excellence."

Steadying the ship

The new leader’s first few months will be spent settling in and getting to know staff, operations and key clients.

Beyond the honeymoon phase, next year will be about "steadying the ship" after several years of transformation globally, which included divesting its content practice SJR into the wider WPP group and the promotion of Millar and Grønntun as global presidents.

"The job right now is to get to know that business better and then decide if there are any changes or tweaks that need to be made along the way," Whitehead said.

"We are an agency that has really changed in the last three or four years. The exceptional thing that we have is we structure ourselves along sector lines, so we provide very strong knowledge and experience in industry sectors. We also have a very strong depth in the services we provide, whether that is in data and insights, analytics, behavioural sciences, or better impact, which is about sustainability and defining a purpose for organisations."

On a personal level, Whitehead would like to guide the agency and its clients through challenging times.

"If you look outside the agency and what is going on in the world, there are a lot of very interesting challenges out there, such as Brexit, the global economy, world trade and those sorts of things," he said.

"My goal is to see the London agency though those challenging times and grasp the opportunity to advise our clients."

Whitehead enters the hot seat with extensive experience across communications. Prior to joining H+K, he served as director of emerging markets at APCO Worldwide in London and as the energy and natural resources partner at College Hill (now Instinctif).

He spent the first part of his career working in international banking at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell and in British politics before gaining his MBA from Cranfield, which focused on marketing communications.

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