Lionel Walsh • My Life and Times
My years at ICC
At the instigation of former Reuter Bureau chief David Lawday and my old friend Bob Mauthner, at the time Paris correspondent of the Financial Times, I was approached by a firm of headhunters, Spencer-Stuart, to apply for the job of Director of Communications at the International Chamber of Commerce. Interviewed by the Swedish Secretary General Carl-Henrik Winqwist, I was hired without difficulty.
My first weeks at the ICC were difficult. I didn’t have a proper office, but was given a desk in the corridor, opposite the office of Finance Director Per Magnus Emilsson, another Swede.
Getting the releases read
At Reuters I had been at the receiving end of badly written and unusable press releases produced by a Paris public relations firm, which invariably ended up in the waste basket. I explained to Winquist: “The first thing we have to do is to get journalists to read our news releases.”
Early on, I persuaded Axel Kraus of the International Herald Tribune to interview Winquist and write a very brief story.
But sadly, there was little at the ICC capable of interesting the media.
The commissions of ICC
There were commissions on trade, telecommunications, multinationals, intellectual property,arbitration, and other business topics, as well as a thriving international Court of Arbbitration, which was the organization’s one big earner. Of special media interest was ICC Commercial Crime Services, based in London, headed by former London police inspector Eric Ellen. The CCS International Maritime Bureau continues to be deeply involved in the fight against piracy on the high seas, with special attention tp pirate-infested waters of the Straits of Malacca and offshore Somalia.
Thriller in Manila
Within a few weeks of my arrival, almost the entire ICC staff caught a flight to Manila for the self-styled World Business Organization’s Congress, a gathering of about 1,000 ICC corporate members from all over the world.
I persuaded an old journalist friend, Jack Gee to take a free ride to Manila to work as a stringer, writing stories for the Financial Times in London and the Journal of Commerce in the United States. That ensured that the ICC got at least some coverage in two important newspapers.
The conference centre was sited on the edge of Manila Bay. When the then ICC President, Rangoonwala hailed President Marcos at the opening ceremony as “this great man”, there were those in the audience who felt the ICC president was getting a bit over the top, considering Marcos’ international record.
I busied myself as the conference got under way, with typing press releases about the main speeches and debates. They were picked up word for word in some of the Philippines’ English-language newspapers.
Witness to disaster a typhoon strikes
With the Congress in full session, Manila was hit by a violent typhoon. It was impossible to stand upright outside the Congress building.
An oil tanker, caught in the howling storm, was smashed onto rocks just outside the Congress building.
From inside the building it was possible to watch a sailor desperately clinging to the tanker’s side. A worker employed on building the Congress development became stuck in molten concrete, unable to free himself.
Hans Koenig moves in
After the Congress was wrapped up, the ICC national committees met in special session in Manila. The topic was the Secretary General himself, who, it transpired, had got himself into trouble with the real movers and shakers behind ICC, leaders of the international business community.
The upshot of it all was that Winquist had to go, to be replaced by the charming and highly competent secretary General of the German national committee, Hans Koenig.
Business World is launched
One day, I was visited at the ICC by veteran journalist Roger Beardwood, who convinced me it would be a good idea for the ICC to publish a news magazine. And so ICC Business World was born. As designer, Roger Beardwood recommended a young graphic designer who had just come to Paris, Roger Surridge. Beardwood’s ambition was that ICC Business World should become another Time magazine or Business Week. We managed to put out an issue once every three months. Each issue featured a cover story, illustrated by Surridge. One cover showed a woman laboratory assistant, clad in a protective mask, measuring out chemicals into a test tube. The story, headlined “New Jobs for Old” was about new employment prospects in industry.
A cover story on the administrative problems confronting businesses trading abroad was headed “Europe’s Red Tape Mountain”. Another, on business frauds, was headed “The Pinstripe Pirates”. Roger Beardwood and I had lofty ambitions for the magazine, which was put on sale on Paris news stands alongside Time, Newsweek and Business Week, but only managing to sell a few copies. We entered into negotiations with the Sunday Telegraph colour supplement, in the hope that they could be induced to form a partnership. We entertained their editor, John Anstey, to a lavish lunch at the Ritz, but nothing came of the venture.
When eavesdropping paid
Back in the office, I received a visit from one-time Daily Mail correspondent and freelance journalist Allan Tillier. Before leaving ,Allan asked if he could use my phone. I gladly consented and could not help overhearing that he was calling the British ambassador in to the OECD an attempt to enlist his backing for an application to join the International Energy Agency (IEA) as chief press officer. At the time, I did not even know that the job was vacant.
As it happened, I had just carried out a PR operation for the Director-General of the IEA, Dr Ulf Lantzke, successfully promoting the contents of a speech Lantzke gave at an ICC meeting in Zürich.
Swallowing any scruples I may have had about muscling in on what Tillier might with some justification have considered his territory, I rang up the IEA, and applied for the post. Interviewed by Lantzke and his lieutenant, Wally Hopkins, I got the job.
A move down the metro line
Much as I disliked leaving Hans Koenig and other friends in the lurch, I was glad to be moving a few metro stops down the line to the IEA, housed in a section of the OECD building in the rue de Franqueville. My old friends Francis Cassavetti and Peter Gaskell, ran the OECD’s information department.
Soon after my arrival at the IEA, Ulf Lantzke died of a heart attack, and was replaced by another German, Helga Steeg, a foreign ministry official who, it turned out, had a loveable personality. I quickly decided that Helga needed an official portrait and arranged for her to go to the studio of an elderly but brilliant photographer, Gene Fenn,who in the middle of the photo session yelled at me “Animate her, Lionel, will you.”
During Helga’s time at the IEA there were several oil crises, and on one occasion she triggered the release of emergency stocks, setting me into a paroxysm of briefings and TV interviews.
A much appreciated colleague in the OECD was Roy Koch, a former journalist like me, who was in charge of publications at OECD. Roy was a frequent lunch companion and introduced me to Randy Holden, an American copy editor and proofreader who was also an actor, playwright and novelist, and his companion, Gill O’Meara, an accomplished copy editor with whom I later worked mostly at night as I remember on writing magazines for the oil company Elf Aquitaine and L’Oreal cosmetics all while I was supposed to be working for the ICC .
I spent seven years as press officer at the IEA before being hired back by the ICC for the last few years of my career in public relations.
On my return to the ICC for the last time, I was hired as an assistant to one Paul Bond, who did not stay long but moved on to what he no doubt thought would be better things with a Bussels-based World Tourism Organisation, leaving me to take over the press department on his departure.
Another Secretary General
The Secretary General at the time was a Frenchman, Jean-Charles Rouher, a likeable man,who eventually fell out of favour with the movers and shakers of ICC and was got rid of.
Business World meanwhile lived on in the form of a newsletter. My return to the ICC also brought a return to working with the brilliant designer Roger Surridge and his company, Rebus, not only on the production of the ICC newsletter, but also annual reports. After proofreading sessions at the Rebus studio in the rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie, we would repair to a magnificent restaurant called Le Petit Fer à Cheval for a prolonged lunch.
I also became involved in the publication of books to mark ICC events, like world congresses. My old Reuter friend Bob Taylor, in Brussels, joined me in editing articles contributed by business leaders to these publications, which were produced by the London company International Systems and Comomunications (ISC). The books, which carried advertising, were distributed free to participants at ICC Congresses. They included:
I must confess that I found the production of these books a welcome diversion from the tedium of my work at ICC.
Cattaui takes centre stage
An encouraging e change came in my final years at ICC with the arrival of Mrs Maria Livanos Cattaui as Secretary General at the instigation of the then President, Helmut Maucher, CEO of Nestlé.
Maria, who for many years had organised the World Economic Forum at Davos, swept into the ICC like a ball of fire. In my experience Maria also had a heart of gold. She gave the place a much needed shaking up, and kept me on as a consultant when I stepped down as Director of Communications, to be replaced by a lively young Australian, Bryce Corbett, whose account of his Paris years A Town Like Paris became a best seller. I found Bryce for the ICC, having advertised the post in The Economist. I went over to London to interview him over a roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding lunch at the Savoy. He came over to Paris to be interviewed by Maria Cattaui and was immediately hired, leaving me to continue as a consultant until I was floored by a stroke in 2004.
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Copyright © 2009 Lionel Walsh