LONDON—Lord Chadlington is stepping down as chief executive of Huntsworth, the public relations holding company.
Chadlington, 72, noted that he was celebrating 50 years in the public relations business this year. He has indicated that he will remain as chief executive while the search for a replacement takes place, and that once a replacement is found he will continue to work for some key clients, to help in new business, and play a role as an ambassador for the company.
But the announcement comes amid challenging times for Huntsworth, which has seen slower than expected growth in recent years, a declining share price, and shareholder unrest. Nevertheless, Chadlington has sounded an optimistic note, suggesting that recent investments in new people, as well as the company’s partnership with China’s Blue Focus, will pay dividends over the next couple of years.
Peter Selwyn Chadlington—the former Peter Gummer—has spent his entire working life in communications, as a journalist after graduating from Cambridge University and later in public relations both in-house and consultancy.
He founded his first firm, Shandwick, in 1974—he later told reporters that in the 70s, while working at a venture capital firm, he had seen other start their own businesses and make serious money, “So I thought that I'd like to start my own business. And as I wasn't very good at anything, I decided I'd better start a PR firm"—and took it public in 1984.
By the time he sold Shandwick to the Interpublic Group of Companies in 1996, it was one of the largest PR firms in the world, with 1,800 employees and offices in more than 60 countries. Today its successor, Weber Shandwick Worldwide, remains one of the world’s largest PR businesses.
Five years later, he set out to repeat his success, having taken the helm of troubled UK marketing services firm Huntsworth, which he set out to build into yet another global giant. Today, Huntsworth has revenues of around £172 million, and is parent to a handful of major public relations agency brands: international financial communications specialist Citigate Dewe Rogerson; Grayling, a full-service global brand; UK-based consumer specialist The Red Consultancy; and Huntsworth Health.
In recent months, the company has made headlines for its deal with Chinese digital and public relations powerhouse Blue Focus, which took a 20 percent stake in Huntsworth in 2013, but the company’s shares lost 20 percent of their value last month on news that the group's first half results will be below market expectations, adding to disquiet among shareholders—a third of whom had voted against the company’s remuneration plans at the June AGM. A few days later, British PR entrepreneur Matthew Freud acquired a 3 percent stake in Huntsworth.
In addition to his public relations work, Chadlington has been active in politics. He has provided communications counsel to the Conservatives and is a friend and neighbor to current Conservative Party leader David Cameron. Chadlington is also a former director of Halifax plc. He was created a life peer in 1996 and received a SABRE Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement from this publication in 2009.