Profile: Gay Collins, MD, Penrose Financial

IN THE MONEY: Gay Collins's career has spanned both sales and PR, and she has a knack of getting her own way.

Understandably unwilling to embark on a ten-minute trek to the park in the searing heat for a photoshoot, it took her no time to convince our photographer that the (air-conditioned) foyer would make a far better setting.

The Penrose Financial managing director also has a sharp eye for a promotional opportunity. During our interview at City members' club Shed, she has soon charmed the manager into giving PRWeek a free trial membership.

Collins started out in Merrill Lynch's sales department, but after five years selling Eurobonds to hedge-fund managers, she found herself yearning for a career change.

Despite the lifestyle (she lived in New York when working for Dean Witter, now Morgan Stanley, in the 1980s), she decided she "didn't want to be selling Eurobonds at 40".

"Straight selling was one-dimensional," she explains. "I loved the client-handling side, but I didn't want to be selling the product forever."

A conversation with marcoms agency Hill Murray - about how she could apply her knowledge of capital markets - was well timed. A week later, the agency won ANZ Bank and the brief had a strong Eurobond element. Hill Murray rang Collins, and suddenly she was a financial PR account manager.

"I had to take a huge pay cut, but I felt it was the right decision," she says.

It didn't take her long to get the measure of financial PR. Three years later, in 1992, she was part of a management buyout of Hill Murray's PR arm, becoming a board director of the newly formed Ludgate Communications.

Tim Trotter, non-executive chairman of Smithfield Consultants and chairman of management consultancy Glenfern Consulting, led the MBO. He describes Collins as "a determined individual and hard working".

"She's extremely loyal," Trotter adds. But six years after the formation of Ludgate, Collins moved again, setting up Penrose Financial with colleagues Andrew Nicolls and Shona Prendergast. Collins has a friendly manner, but when it comes to talking about Penrose becomes a little ‘on message'. Associate director Sally Todd sits in on the PRWeek interview, armed with facts and figures on the agency and the industry in general.

Collins is fiercely proud of what eight-year-old Penrose has achieved. On the table in front of her, she has a copy of a Financial Times 'New City' piece, published in March and which listed the banks and institutions that wield the most influence in the City. Penrose was the only specialist PR firm to make the list.

Specialisation is the key to the agency's success, Collins maintains. "We have the largest, most experienced PR team dedicated to institutional fund management anywhere - 14 people - with clients' assets well over £2 trillion," she says.

"When we formed Penrose we agreed to concentrate on financial services and capital markets. We've stuck to that and it has worked. Ninety-eight per cent of our clients have come to us through recommendations," she expounds. Collins gives the impression she is delighted to extol the virtues of her firm and its staff, but is embarrassed about the spotlight being on her.

After probing for details of life outside work, she reveals a list of hobbies that include Pilates and playing tennis. Despite living in a "house full of men" (she has two sons and two male dogs), she will never be an armchair sports fan, preferring to participate.

Her cricket-mad property developer husband, Justin, has got her to tolerate cricket though ("a great sport, if rather long"), and she is happy to follow the England side to sunnier climes. Indeed, she is looking forward to an Ashes-inspired Christmas in Australia.

But after years of working in the global finance community, it is unlikely she will be sitting with the Barmy Army.

While her family take their seats at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, one suspects Collins will be off enjoying the city's more cultural attractions.

CV

1998 - Co-founder and MD, Penrose Financial

1992 - Co-founder and board director, Ludgate Communications

1989 - Account manager, Hill Murray

1985 - Eurobond sales manager, Dean Witter (now Morgan Stanley)

1984 - Eurobond sales exec., Merrill Lynch

 

 

 

 

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