Profile: Nigel Whittaker, Burson-Marsteller - Feathering a new PR nest

Former Kingfisher man Nigel Whittaker flies straight to the top at B-M.

Former Kingfisher man Nigel Whittaker flies straight to the top at


It is almost a month since Nigel Whittaker was named as part-time UK

chairman for Burson-Marsteller, but he is still ’hot desking’ around the

agency’s Bloomsbury offices without an office to call his own.

Whittaker’s decision to begin his chairmanship as a shopfloor itinerant

reflects both his self-proclaimed philosophy of flexibility - and

perhaps an element of personal restlessness.

He joins B-M at an interesting time. The agency moved to Europe-wide

practice-led management at the beginning of 1997prompting the departure

of chief executive Alison Canning last September.

Whittaker, himself spectacularly ousted from his pounds 400,000 to

pounds 500,000 a year board role at retailing group Kingfisher in 1995,

after 13 years with the group, now has a two-pronged brief for his

two-day-a-week role.

The first is to act as an ambassador for the agency. ’If I ensure our

reputation is right, work will come in,’ he says. The second role is to

sell the structural changes into the UK office, and to ensure the system

works efficiently.

’B-M is a very progressive organisation, with outstanding blue-chip

clients and some very talented people,’ says Whittaker. ’B-M Worldwide

have also appreciated before anyone else the need to face out to their

clients, offering individual expertise rather than geographical


Whittaker may lack direct agency management experience, but during his

stint at Kingfisher, he achieved an enviable reputation for being a big

hitter as an in-house PR and lobbying operator, gaining a full board

position at the age of 34. Then came his spectacular departure along

with several other key executives in 1995.

’I left in a nuclear explosion at Kingfisher,’ he says. ’I certainly

didn’t think ’That’s great, I’m fine’, but looking back, it was good

that it happened. It gave me the chance to start again.’

A reputed pay-off of pounds 1 million certainly gave Whittaker time to


After several months of time out, he upped sticks from Hertfordshire to

Dorset, and resolved to moderate his ambitions to earn big money above

all else.

’I wanted to build up a portfolio of interests and activities that

between them had to add up to providing variety, and enough money to pay

for my financial costs and no more.’

He was interviewed by Michael Heseltine for the post of director-general

of Fair Trading but says he is glad he didn’t get it - ’I didn’t want a

seven day a week job.’

Instead, Whittaker launched his own consultancy NWCAC, allowing for

extended weekends spent at his new family residence between cliff tops

and National Trust land in Dorset. He insists he will continue to spend

between three and four days out of London -working, walking the dogs or

watching EastEnders.

The deal with B-M means he will continue with non-conflicting

consultancy clients and his non-executive directorships with the likes

of Card Clear plc and Wickes. Clearly, Whittaker has cut a good deal

with B-M. But will the deal be as good for the agency?

Andrew Smith, managing director of Policy Partnership, and formerly of

Ian Greer Associates, worked with Whittaker while he was at Kingfisher

and during his period as independent consultant. He insists that B-M has

landed ’one of the best operators in the business ... He’s professional,

sets very high standards, but he’s very fair. He’s someone who likes to

work hard and play hard.’

Alistair Eperon, director of corporate affairs at Boots, who knows

Whittaker from the British Retail Consortium is also full of praise:

’The Burson-Marsteller job will be a great deal to do with the promotion

of the business, and he has energy and personality which will be very

important in that role,’ he says.

’But,’ he cautions, ’if the chairmanship has other responsibilities in

terms of overseeing the management of a large agency group, then I guess

the jury would have to remain out.’


1983: Executive director, corporate affairs for Woolworth Holdings (now


1986: Chairman of B&Q

1995: Sets up NWCAC

1997: Part-time UK chairman, Burson-Marsteller.

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