Profile: Alistair McLeish, chairman, MMD

European corporate PR grandee Alistair McLeish arrives at interview, held at a client's offices near Geneva Airport, looking as fresh as a daisy, despite having flown in from Romania late the previous night.

The 45-year-old Scot later admits he finds more than 100 flights a year knackering after 21 years' running MMD. The air-travel is, he says, the worst part of the job.

Given MMD's 17 offices are scattered across the former Eastern Bloc, why is he based in Geneva? ‘I'm smack in the middle here. London, Budapest, Vienna and Geneva are the four cities - in that order - in respect of decision-making that affects Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).'

Riding in McLeish's car into the smart Swiss city after the interview, it is clear the father-of-two loves the Geneva lifestyle: ‘In winter I'm a keen skier, mainly in Switzerland. I used to go to Val D'Isère a lot, now it's mainly Verbier.'

As MMD has grown, McLeish has become less directly involved with clients, which include IBM, Visa, Intel and Rosneft. He admits: ‘I can't remember the last time I went to a pitch - I don't want to be one of those people who's wheeled in and is never seen by the client again. And my teams don't need me at pitches anyway.'

Instead, he says, his role is to ‘manage MMD's relationships with the outside world' - for example, liaising with partner agencies. He continues: ‘MMD is becoming a much more mature business. I want to steer us strategically through our next changes, so the thirtysomethings can come through.'

Teased that he suddenly sounds like someone 20 years his senior, he retorts: ‘I'm not thinking about retirement, not at all! But I prefer to work behind the scenes now - in the mid-1990s, all roads led to me, and now that's not the case. I'm a counsellor for senior management.' MMD must, though, surely be ripe for a sale. It seems such a deal may be the ‘next changes' he is hinting at, as he reveals: ‘We have never found a deal - though we have come close. I want to steer us into a bigger organisation in a manner that is sustainable.'

He continues: ‘It's inconceivable that, in the next ten years, we will remain an "island"… but the problem with major networks is that they can strangle people.'

For now, MMD continues to rely on ‘strong relationships' with agencies including Burson-Marsteller and Edelman. McLeish says: ‘We derive 15 to 20 per cent of our revenues from relationships with other consultancies. And we feed work to them - in the past three years, I'd say we've fed out $10m of fee-work.' He adds: ‘PA and corporate work account for a third of our revenues but two thirds of our profits: we have developed the business in recent years by increasing the higher-value consultancy work.'

McLeish is a corporate comms specialist to the core: ‘Put me in front of a brand manager and I wouldn't know what to say.' He later confesses: ‘I am not at the sharp end of media relations. I make no pretensions to having a journalism background.'

He studied agricultural economics at the University of Wales. After a spell as an executive assistant (‘for that, read dogsbody') at a management consultancy called PSL Group, he founded MMD (McLeish Marketing & Design, though the name is never used) in his mid-20s.

In the early days he was aided by - among others - his late father, who previously ‘ran companies for Shell'. The group mushroomed into four separate businesses, but MMD Agricultural Communications was sold off seven years ago; MMD Marketing Communications, a small London tech shop, and Kokoro Design Consultants were both dispensed with in 2002.

After 21 years at the helm, then, what gets McLeish to work each day? ‘There's no greater kick than seeing fire in the belly of someone young, then seeing that person grow into a fully fledged PR professional.' Perhaps wary that he is again sounding like a grey-head, his next answer proves he is still young at heart. What would he do if he wasn't in PR? ‘I'd be a pro ski-bum. Or maybe a cricket groupie.'


2005 Chairman, MMD Corporate, Public Affairs & PR Consultants

2002 Sells MMD Marketing Communications (London) and Kokoro Design Consultants

1998 Sells MMD Agricultural Communications

1985 Founder, MMD Group

1993 Launches first MMD office in CEE in Prague

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