In our 60 second interview series, Citywealth speaks to Alex McCready, head of reputation and privacy at Vardags about high stakes crisis work and the rise of blackmail threats.
Tell me about your role
I head the reputation and privacy team at Vardags. We support individuals, families and companies during times of crisis, helping them to manage complex problems sensitively and discreetly. That could range from unwanted media intrusion, damaging allegations online, harassment or blackmail threats, through to potential criminal charges or a regulatory investigation.
I always say to clients that the legal aspect is just one piece of the puzzle though; so I work closely with the client, their team and their communications advisors to devise a holistic strategy to protect their reputation and privacy during the crisis and beyond.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I think the best part about my job is that every day is different. Some days you’re negotiating a correction and apology with a tabloid newspaper, other days you’re helping a client deal with a disgruntled ex-employee who is harassing them online, and the next you’re helping a FTSE 100 company respond to allegations of corporate malfeasance. Every problem is unique and presents its own specific challenges.
However, the one thing all these issues have in common is that they tend to be urgent and high-stakes for the client, so you need to be ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice!
Tell us about interesting client instructions
Privacy lawyers always give the worst answers to this question, as we can never talk about our cases. But inevitably if a client comes to me it’s because they have a complex problem. I could be tasked with uncovering evidence that the client’s company is the victim of a smear campaign organised by a business rival, through to helping a charity deal with damaging allegations against members of staff. In both situations, if the issue isn’t dealt with properly, their reputation could be left in tatters and it could result in the collapse of their organisation, so the stakes are very high.
One trend I’ve also seen recently is a rise in the number of clients facing blackmail threats, particularly those involving a sexual element. It’s a situation that leaves clients feeling immensely vulnerable, particularly if they’re high-profile.
Clients often think there is nothing they can do other than give in and pay, but the law does offer protection. I regularly work alongside our criminal team to explore all the potential remedies, negotiating where possible, and going to court or involving the police if necessary.
What challenges do your clients face and how are you helping your clients to overcome them?
Most of my clients are truly international and can literally live half of their life on a jet. Couple that with power of the internet - which allows anyone with a grudge to disseminate allegations world-wide at the touch of a button - it makes protecting a client’s global reputation even more challenging.
I therefore think it’s essential to have a great network of other advisors who are pre-eminent in their field – whether that’s a reputation lawyer in the US, a cyber-security expert in Paris or a business-intelligence firm in the Middle East. It means that your client is getting the best possible advice, whatever jurisdiction you’re working in.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
Definitely setting up my own department. We’re only six months in, but we already have a brilliant roster of clients and are doing some fantastic, complex work.
What do you consider to be the most important attributes for a leader?
I think loyalty and integrity are the most important attributes for a leader.
Loyalty isn’t a given. I think as a leader you need to earn your team’s loyalty by investing in their development and standing-up for them when times are tough. Similarly, acting with integrity at all times is vital. Giving your team credit for their achievements, acknowledging your own mistakes and putting their welfare as your priority – even ahead of profits.
I also think having the confidence to surround yourself with people who do certain things better than you is vital if you want your team to grow and flourish.
Where was the last place you travelled to for work or pleasure?
An amazing trip exploring Colombia in January.
If you weren’t in the wealth management industry, what else might you be doing?
I spent six months on secondment to The Prince’s Trust and absolutely loved it, so probably something in the charity sector….
How do you relax after a long day?
Time with family and our very rambunctious little kitten.