The first time I met the entrepreneur then known as Peter Gummer—now, following the award of a life peerage in 1996, Lord Chadlington—he was the chief executive of a 12-year-old public relations firm best known for its work in the financial realm, an emerging leader in the U.K. market. He was speaking at a PR event in Fleet Street, where he predicted that within a few years there would be three £100 million PR firms in the world and that the one he led, Shandwick—at the time about a 10th that size—would be one of them.
I was sufficiently new to and naïve about the public relations business that I reported his claim straight, despite the fact that many of the people at the meeting considered it absurd. Fortunately, his accomplishments over the next few years—during which Shandwick acquired several firms, including Welbeck in the U.K., Golin Harris and Mona Meyer McGrath and Dorf & Stanton in the U.S.—made me look smarter than I was, and Gummer himself into an industry legend.
Peter Selwyn Chadlington 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 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. And his role in creating that firm—today its successor, Weber Shandwick Worldwide, is the world’s largest PR business—would be enough to earn him a SABRE Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement, but just five years after the sale of Shandwick he was at it again, having taken the helm of troubled U.K. marketing services firm Huntsworth, which he set out to build into yet another global powerhouse.
Today, Huntsworth has revenues of just over £159 million, 4.5 percent up from last year, and is parent to a handful of important public relations agency brands: international financial communications specialist Citigate Dewe Rogerson; full-service pan-European consultancy Trimedia; Grayling, a trans-Atlantic brand with IR, PR and public affairs capabilities; U.K.-based consumer specialist The Red Consultancy; Eastern European powerhouse Mmd; and Huntsworth Health.
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 and today serves as a non-executive director of Britax Childcare Holdings Limited.