An article with Matt Pollard,
global head of communications, Clermont Group
“Multinational PR companies are extremely nimble,” says Matt Pollard, global head of communications for Clermont Group, the Singapore-based private family investment office of billionaire chairman Richard Chandler. “But I have been very surprised to find that working for the family office of a billionaire is the same. Clermont has 50 people managing billions of dollars but no bureaucracy whatsoever. It’s very easy to get something done. That’s refreshing and really surprised me. The other thing that’s similar is the pace of work. You get something done and then move on to the next thing.”
A examination of ambition
If the transition to Clermont from PR agency Portland Communications in March this year was straightforward, getting through the door at Clermont was anything but. Like all prospective employees of the firm, founded in the 2006 demerger of a $6bn investment portfolio from Sovereign Global, Pollard had to undergo a formal written assessment.
It took place on a Friday evening, with the paper having to be returned 48 hours later. Pollard wrote 5,500 words about his method of approaching solutions to problems and his sources of inspiration. His essay was read by three senior executives, convincing Pollard of two things: firstly that two-way communications is at the heart of the firm and secondly, that Clermont does dare to be different.
Driven from the chair
"Clermont is very forward-thinking in terms of public relations and communications," reflects Pollard. "A lot of that comes directly from our chairman. He attaches great importance to being able to tell a story. I’ve never worked anywhere where communications matters as much to the organisation as it does here. Clermont’s culture is that all senior people care about communications and everyone takes part. It’s at the heart of what this company is about."
Underpinning the operation is a very clear vision of Clermont as a private investment firm with a difference, explains Pollard. The company’s stated purpose is to build businesses which help to build prosperity and high priority is placed on a socially-responsible mindset. "It’s not just about what profit we have made at the end of each year," he says. "It’s about what difference we have made."
The first 180 days
Pollard’s first six months at Clermont involved developing the job specifications and helping to build a team of PR, graphics and design professionals. He sees communications becoming more strategic in Asia and predicts a shift from seeking to protect or advance commercial interests to story-telling. "A good reputation is no longer just a nice-to-have," he says. "The visibility offered by social media and the advent of responsible capitalism means every company has to be more transparent. A company’s licence to operate in Asia is at risk like never before."
From electric aircraft to the history of healthcare
Pollard is also responsible for overseeing the communications of Clermont’s portfolio companies in financial services, aerospace and healthcare. Investee companies include Israeli start-up Eviation Aircraft and Vietnamese private healthcare group Hoan My Medical. Eviation debuted Alice, the world’s first all-electric aircraft, at this year’s Paris Air Show.
“We didn’t realise just how big a story it was going to be,” says Pollard. “It was one of the most-read articles on CNBC and there was coverage from every national broadcaster.” At Hoan My, Pollard is writing a history of the company as well as helping build its media relations capacity.
Travelling extensively in the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Vietnam, Pollard finds corporate use of social media less advanced in Asia than in Europe and sees a need for debate on the effective utilisation of digital tools.
He also reports greater pressure on companies to state political positions or views on issues such as the environment and climate change.
A second chance
Pollard had to cut short his first experience of public relations in Asia in 2015 when he was recalled to London after just 18 months in a strategic communications and policy role in Hong Kong for Deutsche Bank. He was needed back home to help his employer prepare for Brexit, having previously worked in London for the UK Treasury from 2009-2014, including a stint as assistant private secretary to Chancellor George Osborne. “Media and PR was what I enjoyed the most,” he says. “George Osborne was very media-savvy. He taught me a few tricks of the trade. I had expected to be in Hong Kong or five or six years but Brexit derailed that.”
He joined Portland Communications in 2016 before deciding to resume his Asian experience by moving to Singapore for the Clermont opportunity.
“I was ready for a new challenge,” he says. “Nobody in London seemed to want to put their head above the parapet and say anything that could be interpreted incorrectly. That kind of took the spice out of the job.I thought that professionally it would be a good time to return to Asia and from a personal perspective it was the right time in our lives.
“I got married six days before we came out to Asia. My wife had never been to the continent before.”
Protecting Asian reputations
Pollard sees financial and corporate communications in Asia as increasingly being about protecting reputations, rather than simply obtaining positive news coverage for his employer. “There are a lot of companies in Asia who are open to the importance of communications,” he says. “It will take time for there to be more of a changing of the guard, but a lot of exciting things are now being done in the region.In Europe and America, a lot of companies are on the defensive but in Asia, it is the opposite. Everyone is on the offensive. You’ve got markets opening up to foreign ownership and the state rolling back across a range of different countries.”
There’s an incredible array of opportunity and growth here and communications is at the heart of that in a way that it hasn’t been before.”
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