Teneo Takes Tough Tack in Tackling Trouble

Thom Weidlich 07.01.21


This week brings an example of a company firmly responding to an ugly crisis — at least, once the scandal became public. Particularly notable is that the company is a consultancy and one of its specialties is public relations.

The Financial Times on June 24 broke the story that Declan Kelly, the C-suite advisor at New York-based Teneo, lost his board seat at charity Global Citizen. Kelly (pictured) got drunk at a May 2 fundraising event and inappropriately touched several women. Global Citizen had launched an independent probe. The FT quoted a spokesperson for Kelly who admitted to the bad behavior, apologized and said he would cede some of his Teneo responsibilities.

Kelly co-founded the firm in 2011 with Doug Band, who had been a deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton. Kelly himself was economic envoy to Northern Ireland (he’s Irish) under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Teneo was known to have close ties to the Clintons, a relationship that seems to have soured. The firm, which overflows with politicos (former U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan is a senior adviser), has 1,200 employees and 33 global offices.

Firm Clients

The FT story was trouble. In its wake, several Teneo clients were reportedly rethinking that relationship. General Motors reportedly canceled a new $250,000-a-month contract. Commenters speculated about Teneo’s future. Some of the commentary included needling because Kelly advises companies and CEOs on corporate social responsibility and the like.

“I’ve seen a number of crisis communications challenges over the course of my career — this one is especially challenging because the firm and Mr. Kelly are in the business,” The New York Times quoted Tony D’Angelo, a Syracuse University public-relations professor. “This is like a celebrity chef who burns dinner on a global broadcast.”


In order to protect the employees of Teneo and its clients, and with my family’s strong support, I have decided to leave the company and resign as chairman and CEO.

— Declan Kelly

The heat in that celebrity chef’s kitchen got to be too much. Something had to be done, especially because Kelly was the public face of the firm. On Tuesday, June 29, he stepped down. “In order to protect the employees of Teneo and its clients, and with my family’s strong support, I have decided to leave the company and resign as chairman and CEO,” Kelly said in a statement, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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But note that he and Teneo didn’t take this action until almost two months after the star-spangled charity event and not until the drama was reported in the press. The firm should have anticipated it would become public — and a problem. As we’ve said repeatedly, many crises can be predicted and prepared for.

On Tuesday, the New York Post reported that Kelly allegedly conducted an affair with a female Teneo executive. That, too, may have contributed to the shotgun resolution of the crisis.

Photo Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock

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