PROFILE: Charles Skeeles, Shandwick China; Tearing down Chinese walls’

Shandwick’s Charles Skeeles prepares to take Shanghai by surprise

Shandwick’s Charles Skeeles prepares to take Shanghai by surprise

Charles Skeeles says his favourite James Bond film is From Russia with

Love, ‘because of the Trans-Siberian Express journey.’ And this is

precisely how the former director of Shandwick Consultants intends to

arrive in Shanghai on 1 November, to take up his new post as CEO for

Shandwick China.

Skeeles, 37, bounds breathlessly into the room. Although it is tempting

to dwell on the analogy of him as the 007 of the PR business, it belies

the importance of his new role in developing one of the fastest growing

markets in the world. ‘China is a true frontier country - nowhere is

changing so quickly and so dramatically. It will build 40 airports in

the next five years and computer usage will increase tenfold,’ he says.

He is excited rather than apprehensive about his first overall

management role: ‘It’s PR on a different plane. I felt I had to give it

a go.’

Born in Kuala Lumpar, Skeeles spent his childhood between Britain and

Asia, where his father was stationed with the Ministry of Defence. He

didn’t discover his PR nous immediately, beginning his working life in

marine insurance and then banking consultancy. But by the mid-1980s he

found his niche in financial marketing, joining Ogilvy and Mather under

financial PR head Alastair Eperon.

Skeeles went with Eperon when he joined McAvoy Wreford Bayley two years

later, at the time of the stock market crash. ‘It was a hot company at a

turbulent time,’ he says.

He joined Shandwick Consultants in 1989, keen to work on international

brands and big issues. Seven years later his CV reads like the index

page of a world atlas. He helped prepare the Bangkok Stock Exchange for

privatisation, promoted the Turks and Caicos Islands as a financial

centre and communicated oil licensing opportunities in the Falkland

Islands and the list goes on.

One former colleague says Skeeles’ good humour may be mistaken for

flippancy. However Shandwick set him ambitious new business targets and

he has brought in the bucks.

More sheepishly he recalls his crisis communications work for Skoda

cars. ‘That was a bit hairy, particularly when wheels had fallen off. I

think I made the press comment ‘it could happen to any car’,’ he groans.

The account landed him with the nickname ‘Skoda Skeeles’ among

contemporaries, amused at the connotations for a man who is in love with

his Lotus Elan.

International travel, fast cars, scuba diving and, it seems, James Bond-

like daring. He tells of a marketing trip to Rio de Janeiro where a

colleague was mugged: ‘I ran after the thief, who threw away the credit

cards, but I continued the chase,’ he says. ‘He cycled off and I threw a

slate at the bike, which just caught his mudguard - apparently not the

most sensible thing to do.’

‘He’s bigger than Ben Hur with solid gold wheels,’ says Paul Taaffe,

president of Hill and Knowlton Europe, Middle East and Asia. ‘He’s

creative, entrepreneurial, builds a strong team and is the ultimate

client guy.’ Taaffe has no doubts about how he will handle the Chinese

challenge: ‘He’ll eat it alive.’

Skeeles’ client Dr Tomita, European MD of Japanese telecoms giant NTT,

says: ‘He understands our culture and brings some ideas and angles that

are new to the Asian business mind. Absorbing the Chinese way of doing

business will be a challenge but if he can, we should be able to use his

services in a similar way in that market.’

Skeeles knows he’ll be going into a relatively low-tech environment,

with a major language barrier. His management skills will be tested to

the limit. Nevertheless his broad experience should stand him in good

stead in building client confidence. ‘A lot of people talk abut

international business, but it doesn’t work unless you understand the

situation of the people on the other end of the phone.’ he says.

‘It’s up to me to pitch and hustle,’ adds our man in Shanghai. Let’s

face it, nobody lives twice.


1981 Account manager, Noel Alexander Associates

1985 Senior account executive, Ogilvy and Mather

1987 Senior account adviser, McAvoy Wreford Bayley

1989 Consultant, Shandwick Consultants

1996 Chief executive officer,ÿ20Shandwick China

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