Jardines' PR offensive

Long the butt of negative media comment, Jardines has started to grasp the concept of PR.

For the first time in its 150-year, history Jardine Matheson is attempting to mount a PR offensive. Stung by consistent carping from minority shareholders such as Brandes, Jardines ruling dynasty, the Keswicks, have gone on the public relations offensive.

A barrage of press releases have been hitting our fax machine in recent weeks. It is an interesting change of direction for a firm that has traditionally viewed the media as little more than an irritant.

And there is evidence that it is being proactive with information. It actually accompanied its results statement with data comparing its stock performance (favourably) with its peer group.

Its latest press release is another attempt to address the firm’s image problem – a major part of which surrounds the composition of the board of directors. It has announced that Brian Keelan, a UBS Warburg board director and corporate finance managing director, will leave Warburgs to join Jardines.

Putting a top-rate professional investment banker on the board will go some way to addressing the criticism that the board is merely a home for ancestral friends of the Keswicks.

Keelan has spent 25 years in investment banking and thus is no stranger to concepts such as ‘shareholder value’, ‘corporate governance’ and ‘return on capital employed’.

A further carrot is that Keelan will join as the strategic director, with responsibility for acquisitions, disposals and long-term financing.

Many minority shareholders will hope that Keelan focuses on restructuring the group, and shedding poor performing businesses. He may take charge of spinning off healthy Jardine Pacific companies such as JOS, the computing and logistics division.

Whether Keelan is given a free hand by the Keswicks to do so is another matter, but from a PR perspective the Keswicks are certainly sending out the right signals.

(For a fuller analysis of Jardine group see FinanceAsia magazine’s July 2000 cover story ‘An Obsession with Control’.)

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