PROFILE: Simon Walker, British Airways - Walker comes in to land at BA. Simon Walker flies into the PR fray as BA’s new communications chief

Simon Walker is an addict, if he can’t have his daily fix of newspapers, he will go to untold lengths to receive news some other way. For instance, every year when he and his family retreat to their remote New Zealand hideaway, which is without a phone and electricity, Walker - much to the amusement of his children - sets up a 30ft aerial in the back garden so that he can listen to the World Service. He even used to sleep with the radio on all night until his wife put a stop to it.

Simon Walker is an addict, if he can’t have his daily fix of

newspapers, he will go to untold lengths to receive news some other way.

For instance, every year when he and his family retreat to their remote

New Zealand hideaway, which is without a phone and electricity, Walker -

much to the amusement of his children - sets up a 30ft aerial in the

back garden so that he can listen to the World Service. He even used to

sleep with the radio on all night until his wife put a stop to it.



Walker’s new job as British Airways communications director will give

him tremendous scope for indulging both his news addiction and his

passion for politics. It is easy to see what attracted him. ’BA is

probably the most written about and examined company in the UK and being

director of its communications is the most exciting job in public

relations in this country,’ he says. ’For a PR professional BA has all

the diversity of issues that any consultancy could offer, as well as the

advantages of working for a single company.’



Walker, a very softly spoken 44-year-old, has worked with BA for three

of his four years at Brunswick, where he was a partner. The in-house job

became available following the hasty departure of his predecessor, Kevin

Murray, the day before he arrived. It is understood that Murray was

asked to leave because he didn’t have the heavyweight City and media

contacts BA wanted.



Following last summer’s cabin crew strike, Murray had instigated an

in-house restructure to improve internal communications and staff morale

and Walker is at pains to point out that he has no intention of making a

change for change’s sake. ’I don’t want my new staff to think that there

is going to be huge change because there isn’t. I am very happy with the

people in the department,’ he says.



Murray’s plans to recruit a chief media officer, a broadcast specialist

and a head of employee communications are well advanced and will

continue under the guidance of Walker, who is also looking for five or

six junior staff to fill existing vacancies in the department. Walker is

keen to expand BA’s external communications.



’I want us to be very open and responsive to the media,’ he says, ’but I

don’t want to sound at all critical of the work that has been done.



I think Kevin did a brilliant job and developed the best employee

communications of any company I know.’



Walker and Murray are obviously very different animals and while Walker

will be responsible for internal communications, his prime focus is

going to be improving relations with journalists and getting more

positive stories across to the media.



Walker has a great fondness for journalists - not only did he marry one,

he was one (as a TV reporter for five years in New Zealand), and

apparently he still likes their company. He was offered the job of

reporter while he was on a debating tour of Australia and New Zealand in

1975, having been president of the Oxford Union, the university’s

debating society.



Originally, Walker came from South Africa, where he was brought up in a

strongly anti-apartheid family, he wrote a controversial article for the

Cape Town University newspaper which was banned ’and caused a terrible

furore which made it sensible to leave’. So he consequently took up his

place at Oxford.



Walker’s political career has spanned a wide ideological spectrum. He

reconciles his position as a director of the New Zealand Labour Party

with a stint as an adviser to John Major at 10 Downing street by

describing himself as ’a broadly free market person’.



Somehow Walker’s unassuming manner and appearance don’t square with his

background. But then again, someone who is a past master at debating,

enjoys a good fight and is no stranger to controversy, would seem

perfect for BA.





HIGHLIGHTS

1975: Reporter, TVNZ,New Zealand

1981: Communications director, New Zealand Labour Party

1984: Founded Communicor (PR and lobbying), New Zealand

1990: Director European public affairs, Hill and Knowlton

1994: Partner, Brunswick

1998: Communications director, British Airways



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