Profile: Internationalist lands in UK - Per Heggenes, UK chief executive, Burson-Marsteller

Per Heggenes, the newly appointed UK chief of Burson-Marsteller, is so fresh to the job he's still living out of a suitcase as he tries to find a London home into which he can relocate from the US.

Such a situation is far from novel for the globe-trotting 47-year-old Norwegian, who is effusive about internationalism and has switched continents four times in the 22 years he has worked for the consultancy he describes unequivocally as the 'best brand in PR'.

Heggenes is less than a month into his second spell at B-M London - he spent 18 months here in the late 1990s - but this time round he's assumed the top UK role, replacing Allan Biggar, who is now chairman of the agency's global corporate and financial practice.

So what drives the man at the UK helm of one of the world's largest PR agencies? 'I'm typically a corporate guy. I view myself as a communications professional and an international business leader,' he says. And what is he not? 'I would never pretend to be a media relations specialist in (the UK) market and I wouldn't aspire to be one.'

During the interview, each of Heggenes's responses laser in on the importance of an international outlook - it's the first thing he looks for in new recruits, for example.

The top UK job at such a global agency as WPP-backed B-M could never be parochial, but to ensure he'll continue to rack up the air miles, Heggenes also took on the role of co-CEO Europe. In the past month he has spent two days in Manchester (with B-M-owned UK agency Communique PR) and Madrid (a B-M Europe pow-wow).

Chris Komisarjevsky, B-M's New York-based global president and CEO, says: 'I've worked with Per for almost ten years and he is one of the most international PR professionals I have known. This is crucial in London, which is such an important centre for international business.'

Heggenes's introduction to PR came during his military service, when he worked in the Norwegian armed forces' press and information department.

Prior to that he spent a year working for Norway's largest-circulation national paper, Aftenposten. He studied in Germany ('because I wanted international experience - and because it was free'), spending five years at the University of Augsburg.

Heggenes joined B-M's five-strong Oslo outpost as the office junior in 1982. When he left in 1995, moving to New York to become the agency's global head of HR after three years as country manager, the Oslo office was B-M's second-largest European bureau after London, with 70 staff.

Since he is a keen skier, a highlight of his time in Norway was helping the town of Lillehammer to secure the 1994 Winter Olympics. Today he is proud that B-M is promoting Moscow's bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

Moving to the US was, he concedes, a 'big step'. His wife had to quit her real-estate business and he swapped a ten-minute commute to 90 minutes each way from Connecticut. Plus, he was concerned about his English-language skills: 'I had to operate at an executive level - I wasn't as fluent as I'd like to have been in the language' (his English today is accented but excellent).

After two years in New York he moved to London for the first time in 1997 as B-M chief operating officer. He then moved on to run the European corporate practice before returning Stateside to the take the grand-sounding job of chief knowledge officer.

'(Heggenes) is an internationalist,' says Tony Burgess-Webb, executive V-P at sister WPP agency Hill & Knowlton, lauding Heggenes's 'complete cultural fluency in Anglo and US- culture'.

Internationalism aside, Heggenes also talks frequently of the importance of 'energy'. Asked what his biggest regrets are, for example, he replies: 'There have been times when I have found myself fading away from client work. You source a lot of your energy from clients.'

His private life is energetic, too. An 'outdoor person' with three sons, his most recent ski holiday was in Austria ('black runs - definitely!

I love to ski where no one else has skied') and running ('my best thinking time').

As to what his future holds, he says he loves a new challenge every third year and it's 'not impossible' for him to see himself working for other companies within WPP. But after more than two decades already chalked up at B-M, it's difficult to see this particular global soul leaving the agency in a hurry.


1982: Account executive, Burson-Marsteller - Norway

1992: Country manager, Burson-Marsteller - Norway

1995: MD of human resources worldwide, Burson-Marsteller (NY)

1997: Europe COO, Burson-Marsteller

1998: Europe corporate practice chairman, Burson-Marsteller

2000: Worldwide chief knowledge and insights officer, Burson-Marsteller

2004: UK chief executive and Europe co-CEO, Burson-Marsteller

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