Profile: Calm at the eye of tech storm - Peter Thomas, director of marketing and comms, UK & Ireland, Accenture

Peter Thomas is unfazed by the piped Europop soundtrack that intrudes incessantly on our discussion in the foyer of a west London hotel. IT consulting and outsourcing firm Accenture's soon-to-be director of marketing and communications is excited at the prospect of taking the new role, and no amount of ear candy is going to distract him.

But there is likely to be much more to distract Thomas when he takes up the job on 16 July. Accenture is working on more than £2bn worth of contracts to install and run electronic patient records and modernised IT for the National Health Service. And it is one of the shortlisted bidders for the BBC's technology services arm.

Other public service contracts have attracted media ire, such as the furore over Edexcel's handling of school examinations, so one might expect him to be a bit apprehensive. But the experienced tech PRO doesn't show it.

'Of course there will be a communications challenge, but that is the reason for taking the job,' he says. 'You want the next job to be a big step - something that makes you excited, but also a little bit nervous.

Otherwise you are not really pushing yourself.'

Thomas says all of this in measured tones and is rarely animated or outwardly emotional. But in spite of the odd prepared soundbite, there is more to his approach than PR guff.

Thomas's ex-boss and former Brodeur vice-chairman Johnathan Simnett recalls how Thomas's 'good radar for what motivates people' came in handy when, in the mid 1990s, the pair acted as a 'recruitment tag team' for A Plus, interviewing people out of Thomas's flat in Hammersmith and at The White Swan pub in Twickenham.

'He is one of those guys who will do whatever it takes, but knows how people tick,' says Simnett, now an independent consultant. 'It may seem obvious, but people forget that PR is a people-centric business. Peter really cared about the people in his team.'

Thomas helped oversee the growth of A Plus Group from 40 staff to a 70-strong operation as Brodeur Worldwide. He left to join Hill & Knowlton subsidiary Carl Byoir in 1997, relaunched partly to serve one of its then technology clients, Nortel Networks.

Nortel's decision to hand its global account to Fleishman-Hillard in 2000 proved difficult for the 13-strong dedicated service team that Thomas led. But Brands2Life co-founder and former H&K tech practice board director Giles Fraser points out that few could have successfully brought all the staff back into H&K after the original wrench of taking them out of the firm.

Fraser says the knowledge gleaned from Thomas's time at Brodeur is what garners him so much respect from staff. 'He knows an enormous amount about the (technology) industry and people like that. They like to work for someone they can ask about what they are working on. He can be tough, but he does it with a velvet glove,' says Fraser.

Thomas says that much of his enthusiasm for team-working comes from his personal passion for team sports. His engineer father founded the Dubai Exiles rugby club in the late 1960s, while Thomas himself has been an avid Aston Villa fan since his grandfather took him to see the club because Birmingham City 'were so bad in the 70s'. Thomas has also played rugby since his days at Aston University.

'I am very driven by the team sports I have played. You have to be prepared to lead that team and that sometimes means taking tough decisions that people aren't going to like,' he says.

Thomas says he has not shied away from resigning accounts he felt were counter to the interests of his agency. 3Com global director of PR Sandra Van Vreedendad, who worked for Thomas while at Brodeur, says he is robust in defence of his staff against overly aggressive clients.

Although the background noise has not dimmed, Thomas makes his points with characteristically quiet firmness. It is the approach with which Accenture will now meet the press clamour as public sector outsourcing shifts the firm further into the spotlight.


1989: Account executive, GCI Sterling

1991: Account manager, A Plus (acquired by Brodeur Worldwide in 2002)

1997: Associate director, Hill & Knowlton UK technology practice

1999: Director, Carl Byoir UK

2000: Vice-president of technology, EMEA, Hill & Knowlton

2004: Director of marketing and communications, UK & Ireland, Accenture.

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