RESTON, March 19—Three years ago Robert Leahy became the poster boy for the biggest trend in corporate public relations when he left his high-profile job as the senior corporate communications professional at the National Association of Securities Dealers to become senior vice president for corporate marketing and communications at a company most of his peers had never heard of: PSINet.
The lure, of course, was stock options, and the possibility of striking it rich with a key player in the Internet revolution. But like many companies that looked like high-fliers two years ago, PSINet over-extended itself. The company is now in the process of selling off its “non-strategic assets” in an attempt to stay afloat, and Leahy has moved on, joining Teleglobe as senior vice president of corporate marketing, responsible for positioning, branding, advertising and public relations.
Leahy, who will report to Teleglobe’s president and chief executive officer Terry Jarman, will manage internal and external communications with key audiences including, print and electronic media, industry analysts, customers and prospects, the general public and employees.
Teleglobe is a leader in the broadband services arena, and was recently acquired by Canadian telecommunications giant BCE. Says Leahy, “Teleglobe presented me with a way to stay in the Internet world, which is what I love. It’s a voice company that is moving into the data arena, and it’s an opportunity to build a brand, which is exciting.”
Leahy has a team of about 14 public relations professionals and is looking to increase staffing levels. Even so, he says, “The energy required for this kind of start-up is phenomenal.”
The good news is that Leahy—whose previous experience includes positions at Bowater, International Paper, Andal, and Intelsat—doesn’t appear discouraged by his PSINet experience, despite the fact that his stock options, once worth around $10 million, evaporated in the market sell-off last year.
“Obviously I would have like to make the money and keep the money,” he says. “But the biggest disappointment to me was not so much losing the money as the fact that we built a great company and when the market started shifting in March we just found ourselves under intense pressure from Wall Street to change all our metrics.
“The initial understanding was that Internet companies were a long-term investment and so the metrics were different: growth in market share and revenues were the key metrics. Then they started to look at indicators like earnings before taxes. Then they started to look at net income. And finally they said they were turning off the tap as far as capital was concerned, so companies had to throw off enough money to fund their own expansion.
“All that happened in the space of six or seven months. I thought it was too quick, too harsh, and just a little bit absurd. It not only killed some great companies, it also flushed a lot of money they was the money of shareholders all around the world.”