James Henderson (businessman)
30 December 1964|
São Paulo, Brazil
|Education||Haileybury and Imperial Service College|
|Alma mater||University of Buckingham|
|Known for||Former chief executive of Bell Pottinger; former trustee of Children in Crisis|
(m. 1991; div. 2017)
James Brodie Henderson (born 30 December 1964) is an English businessman working in the public relations sector. He founded a successful financial PR firm which merged with a Bell Pottinger company in 2010. Henderson subsequently became chief executive of the Bell Pottinger group, but was forced to resign in 2017 over a scandal relating to its work for a South African client and which also led to the company going into administration (bankruptcy).
Born in São Paulo, the son of a Brazilian mother and English father, Henderson grew up in London's Kensington and attended Haileybury and Imperial Service College. He studied law at the University of Buckingham and then worked briefly for a London stockbroker before joining corporate PR firm College Hill (today, Instinctif) in December 1989 – first as a researcher, later as a PR executive – where he spent 14 years (not 12 years as one source suggests), leaving in August 2004.
Henderson then founded a financial PR consultancy, Pelham Public Relations, in November 2004, growing it to a 40-strong, £6m business before approaching Bell Pottinger Corporate and Financial to bring about a merger in 2010.
In the first half of 2011, the company was ranked 14th amongst global, and 8th amongst UK, M&A public relations advisers by Mergermarket, the Financial Times-owned mergers and acquisitions data company. The company’s M&A work included acting for Northumbrian Water Group in its agreed acquisition by Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings, for Richemont in its acquisition of Net a Porter, Qatar Investment Authority in its acquisition of Harrods and for Universal Music in its acquisition of EMI Recorded Music.
In 2012 Henderson supported Lord Bell in a £20.5m management buy-out of Bell Pottinger from Chime Communications (the total deal value was £26.5m including an ancillary transaction to acquire the Pelham shareholding), with Henderson, holding a 25% equity stake, subsequently appointed group chief executive.
As chief executive of Bell Pottinger, Henderson had to defend the company against criticisms in 2011 of its Whitehall lobbying activities, while conceding the firm was at fault for editing Wikipedia entries.
In 2016, Bell Pottinger was again reported to have manipulated Wikipedia and other social media, on behalf of clients in South Africa, notably the Gupta family-owned Oakbay Investments. In March 2017, it was alleged that Bell Pottinger was behind a social media campaign, using fake bloggers, commentators and Twitter users to influence public opinion and sow racial division in South Africa, as well as targeting media and personalities that were opposed to the Gupta family.
On 30 June 2017, Bell Pottinger announced that it was hiring Herbert Smith Freehills to review its dealing with Oakbay Investments. On 6 July 2017 Henderson issued an apology and announced that the firm had "dismissed the lead partner involved [in the Oakbay portfolio] and suspended another partner and two employees so that [they] can determine their precise role in what took place." However, following a complaint from South Africa's Democratic Alliance, the UK's Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) held a disciplinary hearing and on 4 September 2017 announced Bell Pottinger's expulsion. In the meantime, it emerged that Henderson had resigned just days before. Henderson said:
- "I recognise the business requires a change of leadership to fix the problems of the past and to move forward. Although I neither initiated nor was involved in the Oakbay work, I accept that as CEO, I have ultimate executive responsibility for Bell Pottinger. I feel deeply let down by the colleagues who misled me. However, I think it is important I take proper accountability for what has happened."
By this stage, Bell Pottinger had appointed accountancy firm BDO to find a buyer, but the company went into administration on 12 September 2017, shedding all its staff by the end of November 2017.
Several employees questioned Henderson's management skills and suggested he became distracted by his relationship with Heather Kerzner, 48, the ex-wife of the South African casino mogul Sol Kerzner and a friend of Sarah, Duchess of York. A former colleague claimed: "It all went to his head. If he saw a picture of himself [in the paper] he was delighted."
Henderson could yet be liable for the agency's actions. Shareholders were reported to be considering legal action against former Bell Pottinger directors for not disclosing the scale of the problem in South Africa, claiming that this non-disclosure affected their participation in a share buy-back in early 2017.
After Bell Pottinger
In December 2017, it was reported that Henderson was "working for four or five clients" and planned to launch a new business in 2018. In January 2018, J&H Communications Ltd (incorporated on 7 December 2017) was reported to be working for the prime minister of Turkey. Henderson told PRWeek J&H would concentrate on "corporate, financial, brand, regulatory and reputation management" work.
Henderson married Alexandra Fisher in 1991. They divorced in 2017. In the divorce settlement he lost his Clapham house, while the rest of his estimated £7m personal wealth was said to have been invested in Bell Pottinger.
Henderson is engaged to Heather Kerzner. She bought a 15% stake in Bell Pottinger shortly before the South African scandal erupted. Between them, Henderson and Kerzner jointly own 37% of Bell Pottinger. On 9 September 2017, it was reported that their November wedding had been postponed. Shortly after, Kerzner was reported to have hired lawyers Grosvenor Law to investigate how to regain some of her Bell Pottinger investment, despite such holdings being effectively worthless as the administrators would prioritise banks and other creditors ahead of equity shareholders. In December 2017, Kerzner took a stake of just under 50% in J&H, Henderson's new firm.
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