PROFILE: Susan Cottam, Cable and Wireless - Recharged for repositioning. Susan Cottam returns from her travels to help C&W reposition itself

Before joining Cable and Wireless this month, Susan Cottam had been enjoying some time out from her career. Last September, after 20 years in full-time employment and eight years in the highly pressurised environment of Barclays Bank, Cottam quit to go travelling in Vietnam.

Before joining Cable and Wireless this month, Susan Cottam had been

enjoying some time out from her career. Last September, after 20 years

in full-time employment and eight years in the highly pressurised

environment of Barclays Bank, Cottam quit to go travelling in

Vietnam.



’I wanted a break to recharge my batteries for a while. When I was at

university, taking a year out was not that common, but it was always

something I wished I had done,’ she says.



Cottam describes her time at the bank as tough. During the recession of

the early-1990s, Barclays received a great deal of criticism for its

handling of corporate clients, including the restructuring of property

company Heron, and Robert Maxwell’s concerns. During this time, Cottam

worked alongside the bankers to manage a consistent corporate message to

the press.



In 1995, Cottam was promoted to head of group PR, a time of great duress

at Barclays. The bank made its first ever loss during the 1992 financial

year and cut dividends. As the head of PR, Cottam had to work closely

with newly-appointed, high-profile chief executive Martin Taylor, who

had a reputation for being obsessed with his image and difficult to work

for, then losses forced Barclays to dismantle its investment bank BZW in

October 1997.



Cottam finally left Barclays in 1998. ’It had been a bloody couple of

years for the bank, dealing with the break-up of BZW. It was a big job

which grew bigger, but I wanted a change of scene, a new environment and

a fresh challenge. I was afraid of going stale,’ she says.



According to Kate Bowes, who worked with Cottam for 18 months at

Barclays as director of corporate affairs, and who is currently head of

corporate communications at ANZ Investment Bank, Cottam has a resilient

personality.



’Susan bounces back from pressure,’ she says. ’When we worked together

there was a lot of pressure but she was always able to stop and have a

laugh.’



Originally from Cardiff, Cottam studied English while at Oxford

University and worked as a journalist on the student newspaper. However,

when it came to choosing a career, the media did not appeal. ’I knew I

didn’t want to be a journalist - I’m not sure why - but I did want to do

something that would make use of my English skills in some sort of

communications capacity,’ she says.



Cottam took her first job in 1979 as an information officer at the

Department of Employment. Then, in 1983 while at the Office of Fair

Trading, she moved out of writing business and consumer material and

joined the press office.



’I saw it as shifting into a wider dimension. I have always enjoyed the

creative side of PR, which is broader than just writing,’ she says.



Since then, she has progressed steadily through the London Business

School, Coopers and Lybrand and, latterly, Barclays.



After last year’s sojourn in Vietnam, Cottam arrived back in Britain

refreshed and seeking a fresh challenge. She busied herself with some

freelance PR projects and briefly considered the possibility of moving

into consultancy work, but decided against it.



’I’ve always been in-house and enjoy being at the heart of an

organisation, being near the engine room, where I can add value to how

an organisation portrays itself,’ she says.



Her brief at C&W is to help the telecoms company reposition itself

purely as a business telecoms supplier following the recent sale of its

interests in the UK cable industry to NTL and its share in mobile

network One2One to Deutche Telekom. Explaining her decision to take the

job, Cottam says: ’The post hit a number of buttons, including being

involved across a variety of functions.’



Indeed, the task at C&W promises to use Cottam’s full range of

skills.



When Graham Wallace was appointed C&W chief executive, he introduced a

strategy of realignment for the company, from being a sprawling mass of

TV and telephone services and consumer and business clients, to a

portfolio of international business telecoms, internet and data

services. Cottam’s job will be to make this change appear seamless -

just the sort of challenge she is ready for.



HIGHLIGHTS



1988: PR manager, Coopers and Lybrand



1990: Head of corporate PR, Barclays Bank



1999: Director of corporate comms, Cable and Wireless.



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