Troubled PR firm Teneo picks Ursula Burns as new chair

Teneo has named former Xerox boss Ursula Burns as its new chair, as the public relations firm scrambles to reassure its Fortune 500 clients following the resignation of its longtime leader in the wake of misconduct allegations. 

Her appointment on Tuesday comes days after Declan Kelly, who co-founded the firm in 2011, resigned as chair and chief executive after the Financial Times revealed allegations that he had inappropriately touched six women at a charity event in May. 

Teneo has been scrambling to stabilise itself after General Motors cancelled a recently signed $250,000-a-month contract in response, heightening fears of a mass exodus of other important clients, as well as staff concerned about the future of the company.

Kelly, who had initially planned to remain in charge, resigned last week and said in a statement that he had made “an inadvertent, public and embarrassing mistake for which I took full responsibility and apologised to those directly affected, as well as my colleagues and clients”. 

Kelly’s exit came just seven months after the departure of Doug Band, a former aide to US president Bill Clinton, with whom he launched the business. 

Burns, who is a rare African-American corporate leader in the US and sits on boards including at ExxonMobil and Uber, has worked as a senior adviser to Teneo since 2017 after stepping down at Xerox. 

After the allegations came to light, Burns told the New York Times: “This is a friend of mine who definitely had a bad occurrence — and he has to deal with that, and he’s dealing with that as we go forward.” The duo are in the process of raising funds for a private equity firm called Integrum that they launched together in April with two other partners. 

“I have a deep understanding of the business, the needs of its clients, and a sincere appreciation for all the great Teneo professionals around the world,” Burns said in a statement.

Paul Keary, another Teneo co-founder who was named chief executive last week, said in an internal memo announcing the appointment of Burns: “I realise that recent events have been difficult for everyone.”

He added: “I have been incredibly heartened by the support we have received from so many clients and friends.”

Teneo’s troubles have also put pressure on private equity group CVC Capital Partners, which has poured at least $450m into the firm since becoming its majority shareholder in 2019. 

Christopher Stadler, the head of CVC’s business in North America, oversees the Teneo investment and is also co-chairman of Global Citizen, the charity group that held the Vax Live concert on May 2 where Kelly’s alleged inappropriate conduct took place. 

Teneo bills itself as the world’s leading CEO advisory firm with a roster of clients including Coca-Cola, General Electric and Tesco. Following completion of a deal to acquire Deloitte’s UK restructuring business last month, the firm employs 1,250 staff and has revenues of close to $400m. 

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