Profile: David Robinson, director of external relations, QCA

Many people would think twice about rejecting a one-way ticket to San Francisco, but after 21 years at oil giant Texaco, David Robinson did just that. Having engineered communications for the Chevron/Texaco merger in 2002, he declined a relocation to California and 'swapped a BA gold card for a Connex rail card', stepping into the public sector where he is this week facing his second A-level results season as director of external relations at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Robinson, who joined the QCA at its lowest ebb, admits that digging organisations out of a reputation hole is a challenge he thrives on, and calmly contends: 'If you can deal with an oil spill then you can use the same qualities to handle exam results.'

The QCA has had its own reputation damage to deal with following the botched A-level gradings of two years ago, but he is confident that all will go to plan this season, as last year when the results were delivered on time with no questions on marking.

The body, which regulates the public examinations system and sets the national curriculum, is responsible for maintaining standards of achievement.

With each year's results come the inevitable stories about the diminishing quality of A-levels and assertions that the exams are getting easier.

Robinson claims not to remember his own A-levels, but thinks his daughter, in her first year of university, would disagree with the detractors. He maintains that they remain a prestigious qualification.

The message to stakeholders is 'more doesn't mean less. We see young people doing high-quality work and instead of celebrating, we say it must be because standards are dropping'. It is something the QCA believes is unique to this country, and is keen to dispute. It also contends the assumption of ever-spiralling A grades - in fact, only just over three per cent of students achieve three As.

Robinson's interest in PR began in the unlikely environs of art school, as a photography student in the 1970s. He spent a short stint as a photographer, finding that he was less interested in the practical side and fascinated more by its comms value. He moved quickly into visual, and then design and written comms, and joined the agriculture firm International Harvester in 1976.

Now 50, Robinson joined Texaco in 1981 as comms manager, going on to manage PR, and becoming general manager of PA before taking on his final role overseeing comms around the merger. 'It was three careers in one,' he says. 'There's a huge range of issues in the oil industry, from selling Mars Bars on garage forecourts to industrial complexes, exploration and product activities in hostile environments, through to significant financial deals - the merger was worth $100bn.'

With the merger finalised, he bowed out, seeking an equally significant challenge. His arrival at the QCA coincided with its comms restructure in 2003, where he now presides over 35 PR staff handling media relations, corporate comms, web activity and a marketing and customer relations unit.

Guarded about his personal life, he is confident about his professional strengths, and attributes his success to 'talented teams'. ChevronTexaco media relations adviser Andy Norman says: 'He knows what his strengths are, and his greatest is that he allows his teams to do their jobs. He is a good enabler.'

Robinson is convinced that commercial discipline can benefit the public sector, but admits that he was unprepared for the level of media scrutiny faced by public organisations: 'There is so much interest in education and everyone feels that they have a stake in it.'

Robinson declares himself an enemy of procrastination, and is 'absolutely focused' on producing results: 'We are judged on delivery. It's not just about producing material that looks good.'

He will need to maintain his steady resolve. With the results season reaching an end, the focus switches to vocational skills and to pushing the case for higher-grade vocational qualifications. It's a balancing act the QCA has to play, challenging the emphasis the UK places on an academic university education. But if you can handle an oil spill, you can probably handle anything.


1976: Communications co-ordinator, International Harvester

1981: Communications manager, PR manager, public affairs general manager

(London/New York), Texaco

2001: Merger communications team director (London/New York/San

Francisco), ChevronTexaco

2003: Director of external relations, QCA

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