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
’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
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
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
’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
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
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.
1988: PR manager, Coopers and Lybrand
1990: Head of corporate PR, Barclays Bank
1999: Director of corporate comms, Cable and Wireless.