Home Archive June 2010 Profile: Stuart Gendall
Profile: Stuart Gendall
Friday, 25 June 2010 16:57

After a career in high tech banking, biotech and telecoms, Stuart Gendall has taken his scientific approach to communications to the charities sector: The director of corporate communications for the Royal British Legion talks to Neil Gibbons. Photographs by Sam Friedrich 

Stuart_Gendall09.jpg“She had a big influence on me, a tough lady in a man’s world, but she was gifted and very inspiring. She was always quick to get to the message and she’d make sure you had your message in a line and were honest. And she’d give you leeway to make mistakes and develop on your own. But you would know if you done right or wrong. She’d tell you.”

TSB’s stock market launch was a success and gave birth to TSB group. Stuart was promoted to senior press officer but by 1989 he was ready to move on again. He took joined BTR plc, the global industrial giant and very much a corporate raider. It would acquire ailing companies and, instead of breaking them up, it’d look at the management and refocus the business.

Stuart came in as a “news controller” and was charged with developing news stories and themes to sell to the press. But it wasn’t easy. “I found it a real culture shock,” he says. “TSB had been a real family affair. I was deeply immersed in TSB within a week of joining thanks to a very, very strong culture. BTR was a completely different kettle of fish. It was a loose conglomeration of different companies that was looking to bring them together. So I was ‘the man from head office’.”

With BTR boasting over 100 companies worldwide, Stuart was never short of a story, but he had to work to get them. Still, he liked the buzz of BTR’s tech stories and could find likeminded individuals in the depths of R&D. He was able to develop strong relationships with and use them to sell stories directly to media.

Stuart stayed at the firm until 1998. By then, he’d managed the internal comms for a worldwide restructuring programme under new CEO Alan Jackson. The change had seen 100 divisions slimmed down to 30 and eventually to four global businesses. It was a major piece of brand management and a huge internal communications project.

“There was huge resistance, especially in the satellite organisations, both to a change in the brand identity or to just a new way of working. Some could see the logic of it, but you’d have still have little pimples of resistance. Externally, you’d have to paint it as the management strategy.”

In 1998, he was enticed by a new opportunity. It was midway through the biotech boom and Stuart had been a small investor and “watcher from the sidelines”. So when he was asked to come and work for Bio Compatibles International, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“It seemed less high risk than others in the sector. It wasn’t developing new chemical products. Instead, it was using a

chemical that was part of the body, which stopped cells attacking each other. Bio Compatibles International was using it to coat medical implements.”

When Stuart joined, the firm had just suffered a setback. Johnson & Johnson had just pulled out of a big partnership deal so Bio Compatibles International was looking to re-establish itself. It was also, says Stuart with a smile, “an opportunity to come in and make a fortune”. He was appointed head of corporate communications and investor relations.

“The company was a worry to the City because it had suffered a big crash in its share price. So I worked with the MD to develop City presentations and look at new product development.”

Sadly his ambitions of becoming a millionaire never materialised. The firm’s strategy had changed and it was now attempting to manufacture the medical products itself. “We were up against big players though, and we couldn’t get the manufacturing base set up. It led to a radical rethink and Bio Compatibles International repositioned itself as an intellectual property company, licensing the chemical material.”

The consequent downsizing was Stuart’s prompt to seek new pastures in 1999. And he found them at electronics and engineering firm GEC, under the leadership of Lord Simpson and John Mayo. It coincided with the firm’s foray into the much-vaunted Marconi Electronic Systems. “It was a great opportunity to be part of a new, emerging enterprise,” says Stuart.

He joined GEC as director of internal communications and found a company in transition. “Under ex-chairman Lord Weinstock, GEC had been a hugely rich company, very diverse, although not very focused. So it had the same problems Bio Compatibles had had. At that time, it was looking to focus on the telecoms company and divest itself of the rest of its businesses. That was a tricky internal comms challenge.”

The Marconi project proved unsuccessful. “It tottered along for about a year,” he recalls. “We were trying to break into the US market and that was very tough. We just couldn’t raise our profile. The company collapsed and I took voluntary redundancy.”

It was, says Stuart, “a very tough time” for all concerned. “A lot of managers wouldn’t take responsibility for the direction of the company. As an internal communicator, I was trying to present the facts. We wanted management to step up and say it how it was. That was always Claire Maskell’s principle: be upfront and direct. So it was disappointing that, as things got bad, a lot of senior managers just wouldn’t do that. I found that demoralising.”

But redundancy proved to be pretty pleasant. Stuart took a break for nine months in which he “worked on the house, decorated and chilled out”. And it was then, in March 2002, that his opportunity came up with the Royal British Legion.

“We’re 90 years old in 2011, we’ll be using the anniversary to talk about the Legion in a different way and explore the ties that bind. David Cameron is talking about Broken Britain. We’re looking at things that hold people together.”

“I’d started thinking about working for a charity,” he says. “I’d worked for large corporatations and decided I’d like something completely different.”

The Legion wasn’t all that different to his previous employers. “They were like a mini conglomerate,” he says. “They had a big brand and lots of different services. It was about trying to find ways to present it as a single entity.”

But the set up was highly unfamiliar in other ways. Having been used to public companies answerable to shareholders, here he was faced with a much more diverse stakeholder base in which members had a say in the governance of organisation.

He quickly indentified the key priorities. “The big thing was to look at the brand identity,” he says. “We were strongly identified with the remembrance side and not so much with the things we do for younger serving people.

“There was also a need to restructure the communications division itself. When I joined, there were small divisional comms teams: one for fundraising; one for welfare; one for membership – each just developing stories for their own teams; and alongside them we had a lobbyist. They weren’t producing joined-up messages. That needed to change.”

The new communications division is now 19-strong and “like an internal consultancy. We shape the message and bring it all together.”

The brand identity of the poppy itself has been rethought too. “With the support of the directors and CEO, we’ve taken the poppy and used it to talk about welfare activity, young people and how it relates to the community. We’re lucky to have the big calendar event of the public appeal. We can throw imagery around that.”

Under the Stuart’s guidance, the Poppy Appeal has revamped. In 1998, it was launched live from Basra and these days garners extra profile by linking up with young pop bands. It is raising record amounts too. The last poppy appeal raised £33 million.

“Stuart is a committed team player with a passion for communication,” says the Legion’s director general Chris Simpkins. “He has the invaluable ability to identify and promote the kernal of a message from a mass of data and to simplify the complicated.”

Stuart’s focus is now turning to a key milestone. “We’re 90 years old in 2011,” he points out. “We’ll be using the anniversary to talk about the Legion in a different way and explore the ties that bind. David Cameron is talking about Broken Britain. We’re looking at things that hold people together.”

“We’re 90 years old in 2011, we’ll be using the anniversary to talk about the Legion in a different way and explore the ties that bind. David Cameron is talking about Broken Britain. We’re looking at things that hold people together.”

Initiatives will include ‘man in a van’ poppy calls – in which volunteers help veterans to live independently, by helping with daily chores. And there are also plans to provide more services to younger members – debt support, financial advice, and retraining.

The transformation of the Legion’s communications hasn’t gone unnoticed. The corporate communication department won the 2009 Chartered Institue of Public Relations Excellence Award in the Broadcast category for the 2008 Poppy Appeal launch from Basra. It also won the Public Affairs category in 2008 for the Honour the Covenant campaign and the Not-for-profit category in 2007 for the 2006 Poppy Appeal.

Launched in September 2007, Honour the Covenant is the Legion’s ongoing campaign calling on government to “honour its life-long duty of care to those making a unique commitment to their country”. Since the launch, the campaign has seen radical changes in the treatment of servicemen and women – an increase in compensation payments for injured personnel, better access to mental health services and improved access to social housing for those who have left the forces.

With a newly installed government to lobby, Stuart believes the Legion has a great opportunity to do more.

“We had 47 demands of the past government and we won on each one. As a result, MPs think of us as the leading armed forces charity. That’s quite a turnaround from 10 years ago.

“We launched our own manifesto based on Honour the Covenant, outlining things we wanted to add on. We asked MPs to sign up and pledge to support the campaign if elected to government. We got 60% of the coalition government signed up. Our next step is to contact them and hold their feet to the fire.”

 

Curriculum Vitae: Stuart Glendall

2002 – present Director of corporate communications,

The Royal British Legion

1999 – 2001 Director of internal communications, Marconi plc

1998 – 1999 Director of corporate communications & investor relations, Biocompatibles International plc

1990 – 1998 Manager, corporate communications, BTR plc

1989 – 1990 News controller, BTR plc

1986 – 1989 Senior press officer, TSB Group plc

1982 – 1986 News editor, Banking World

1980 – 1982 Journalist, Associated Newspapers

Education: University College of Swansea – BSc (Hons) Marine Biology

Interests: Biology and general science, reading science fiction and history, painting, MG motor cars