RT: You succeeded Dave Senay as FleishmanHillard’s president and chief executive officer in 2015. How did you take up the challenge?
JS: I’m just the fourth CEO at FleishmanHillard. I was heavily influenced by our CEO of 32 years John Graham who continues to be our inspirational Chairman. I also worked closely with his successor – and my predecessor – Dave Senay. So, I knew what I was getting into. I believe the greatest gift we can bring to others is our energy so I try to represent our people and our firm well. I try to stay fit and be alert at all times. I also believe to my core in the importance of servant leadership. It is a privilege to serve as FleishmanHillard’s CEO and to be part of such a vibrant, talented, global, hard working, creative and ethical community of people. I am always meeting clients and love this.
RT: Please comment on the evolving PR business globally, and also in Asia.
JS: Social has been a game changer of course. Today it is a much more visual business than it was – video storytelling plays an infinitely bigger part than even five years ago. The biggest change is the variety of people we are attracting nowadays with title and roles previously unheard of. I’m blown away by the standards I have witnessed at FleishmanHillard in India.
I think India can contribute hugely to greater creativity in our business. My native Ireland produced so many great writers and musicians – that creativity came from adversity. Great creativity invariably comes from such a backdrop.
We won at Cannes, at Spikes Asia and picked up a coveted Black Pencil this year thanks to our Indian offices – that’s a very big deal for us.
RT: You had overseen regions like Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA). How has the experience with these diverse cultures been?
JS: Being Irish helps. As the Irish went around the world we always went wherever to add value – from our priests and nuns bringing education to India or Africa – to our great business leaders. We never went to take or to steal. We are unique in that respect. We were not colonialists. That neutrality is very helpful in business. I love India and your sense of humour and great sense of irony. You get irony better than any place I’ve ever been to outside of Ireland. In a sentence – I just try to bring value wherever I go. I love learning about different cultures.
RT: You have been described as “a consummate public relations professional”. What is your comment on the talent that is available today?
JS: I think I’m a consummate survivor! I think the talent coming into our business today is remarkable. I don’t think I would get a job now. However, I think my upbringing taught me a lot about common sense and how 1+1=2 in any language. Surprisingly, not everyone gets this.
RT: How do you manage to stay ahead of the curve, having recognised the profound changes taking place in the PR and Communications’ space?
JS: God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we listen twice as much as we talk. I’m surrounded by fantastic senior colleagues at FleishmanHillard – many of them are true futurists – and together we are plotting our next incarnation. How do we embrace artificial intelligence – for example? Getting the correct balance between today and tomorrow is key. I’ve hired people in years gone by, who were so far ahead of the curve they were just not relevant to our clients. So that can be as big an error as not embracing change.