Profile: Peter Baillie, GKN - Steering a new course for GKN/Engineering giant GKN adds a new communications weapon to its armoury

Forget gardening leave - until he becomes director of corporate communications at engineering giant GKN next January, Peter Baillie is going sailing.

Forget gardening leave - until he becomes director of corporate

communications at engineering giant GKN next January, Peter Baillie is

going sailing.



His previous employer, investment bank BZW, released him from his duties

as director of corporate communications when they heard he’d been

poached by GKN’s headhunters. Baillie is clearly delighted to have some

unexpected time with his wife and the 41-foot yacht he bought last week.

So pleased is he with the boat that he suggested doing this interview on

board.



The GKN headhunter’s call came in early July this year - ’long before I

knew what was in store for BZW,’ he says, referring to the bank’s recent

takeover by Credit Suisse. Baillie, 49, stresses that he is glad to have

spent five years in the City, but he is pleased to be returning to a

business which makes products - automotive parts and weapons - with

which he has dealt in previous jobs, and which are tangible.



’I think there’s a huge amount of integrity in actually making things.

The problem of the City, from a PR point of view, is that you can’t

actually go and kick the tyres of anything,’ he reflects.



Baillie learned to love kicking tyres at the company which became Austin

Rover, a place where he also gained his reputation as a crisis

manager.



’We had about one (crisis) a week. It was an industrial relations

battleground for Britain, frankly. You found yourself sitting in your

office in Coventry managing a story that was occupying if not dominating

the front pages for days on end. If that doesn’t teach you how to manage

a crisis, nothing will.’



One of the more contentious matters Baillie will have to grapple with in

the near future is a US garage owners’ class action against GKN’s car

exhaust business for breach of contract. A district court has already

awarded them damages reported at nearly dollars US600 million.



An even tougher PR problem for Baillie is the fact that part of GKN’s

business is selling weapons. Having handled PR for Plessey’s defence

division, however, he is familiar with anti-arms trade campaigners’

arguments. He does not want to commit himself on whether the

Government’s supposedly ’ethical’ foreign policy will cause PR

difficulties for GKN, saying only ’we’ll have to wait and see’.



Does he personally worry about the morality of selling weapons? ’The

short answer is no. What you’re selling to people is a means to defend

themselves. You are providing for the most basic human instinct,’ he

argues.



During his stint at BZW the number of people working on corporate

communications was doubled from five to ten, and Baillie says that he

will argue more resources from GKN if it is necessary. He is used to

being taken seriously by his bosses: ’If there’s one thing that really

pisses me off when I read PR Week, it’s people who bleat ’when will

people take PR seriously?’.



I don’t think that not being on the board denies a PR person any

influence whatsoever.’



Baillie is reluctant to commit himself on whether he will use PR

agencies, until he knows more of GKN. However he points out that at BZW

he decided not to use an agency in the UK, ’because I know the press

quite well and I had a very good head of media affairs working with me.

It was hard to imagine how a PR consultancy could have added value.’



At BZW Baillie did, however, hire PR agencies outside the UK, in

countries where BZW lacked strong in-house expertise. He is already

clear that because GKN doesn’t have enormous media exposure, ’the

priority is getting the internal communications right and making sure

that people understand what the firm’s about, what the strategy is, what

the vision for it is’.



With some 35,000 people working for GKN subsidiaries in 40 countries

around the world that is, as Baillie says, ’an interesting

challenge’.



HIGHLIGHTS

1985

Director of PR for defence division at Plessey

1989

Director of PR for GEC (which took over Plessey)

1991

Corporate affairs director United Distillers

1993

Director of corporate communications, BZW

1998

Director of corporate communications, GKN



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