Baroness Denton of Wakefield stepped into a new post at
Burson-Marsteller last week - managing director of B-M Europe - but was
still waiting for her own office. However the small matter of a lack of
desk space was not enough to prevent her flying out to Copenhagen to
plot strategy with a client.
Among the B-M Europe clients she may eventually deal with are Andersen
Consulting, Unilever, Zeneca and Philip Morris. Her new role involves
’being a source of value to the European team and relating what they are
doing to the world in which they operate’, she says cryptically.
This seems to mean drawing on her experience of industry and government
to give strategic advice to colleagues and potentially all of B-M
Europe’s clients. The role is a sensitive one, as she acknowledges.
’There will be an internal tightrope to walk, making sure that people
realise I’m here to help and not to criticise,’ she says. But her
five-page CV hints at the wealth of contacts and knowledge on which she
Returning to Burson-Marsteller is a major shift from her previous job in
the former Government as Minister for the Economy, Agriculture and
Women’s Issues in Northern Ireland. But Burson-Marsteller clearly wants
her to maintain Parliamentary contacts.
’It’s very important in this job to keep in touch with the Lords. I
don’t want to lose that,’ she says. Denton will continue to speak in the
House on subjects that interest her, including women’s issues and
She retains the politician’s way of responding to journalists by saying
exactly what she wants to say, without being goaded into any unplanned
statements. For example, Denton had apparently decided to give PR Week
the message that she is pleased to be back at Burson-Marsteller. This
may well be true, not least because her own political career began
turning sour earlier this year. There were calls for her resignation
following controversy about discrimination against a Catholic employee
in her office.
After the election, her criticisms of a Catholic civil servant in the
running for a top job caused further outrage. ’Because of that incident,
people (in Northern Ireland) would have very mixed feelings about her,’
says a source in Northern Ireland politics, who went on to add that
Denton was ’hardworking’ and ’reasonably effective’, especially in terms
of encouraging industrial development in the province.
Denton agrees that the so-called discrimination episode hurt her
’I think it left damage, yes. I thought that people trusted me.’
John Major appointed her a working peer in 1990, so that she could help
guide Government business through the Lords. She has measured praise for
both Margaret Thatcher and Major, saying she feels ’closer to him than
her’, but that she is a ’great fan of Thatcher. I could never have done
what she achieved’.
That may be too modest. Prior to her government career, Denton held a
terrifyingly large number of public and private sector appointments,
including a directorship at British Nuclear Fuels, and jobs at Austin
Rover, IPC Magazines and the Economist Intelligence Unit. She even
worked as a professional racing driver between 1967 and 1971.
These days her extra-curricular activities are less dangerous, but
consciousness that she is 61 seems to have made her more driven than
ever to achieve.
’The one lesson that age brings is - do not waste a single minute,’ she
says. ’If I don’t do this properly now and finish it I might not have
Professional racing driver, twice British Women Racing Driver’s Champion
External affairs director, Austin Rover
Appointed as a working peer
Minister for the Economy, Agriculture and Women’s Issues in Northern
Managing director, Burson-Marsteller Europe.