In the foyer of Teneo Holdings impressive headquarters on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan there is an old Coca-Cola machine that looks like something out of a time capsule.
For just a dime you can pull out an old Coca-Cola bottle and drink like it was 1955.
When you enter Teneo itself however it feels like the future.
Teneo’s newest business is Teneo Intelligence, which uses algorithms to predict future trouble spots around the world and models how such events will effect markets.
They then sell the information on to major companies.
It is run by an ex-CIA figure who Teneo CEO Declan Kelly, 43,says can spot a revolution from a million miles away.
At its heart Teneo is essentially a global consulting firm and merchant bank that advises many of the world’s largest companies on a wide-range of issues.
In his own office the Portroe, Tipperary-born Kelly has a spectacular view of uptown Manhattan and his desk is adorned with pictures of world leaders and corporate chieftains he has done business with including Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.
The coke machine also serves the purpose of reminding visitors that Teneo and Kelly are deeply involved with Coke, one of their major clients.
Kelly is on the fast track in American business, this Irish generation’s Tony O’Reilly who conquered the American corporate sphere in his day.
Like O’Reilly he comes from a humble background in Ireland and still tears up remembering the sacrifices his parent Nan and Tom Kelly, a small farmer who left school when he was 12, made for him and his brother Alan, now a Minister of State, to ensure they got the best education.
Whatever was in the water in the Kelly household the two sons emerged as outrageously ambitious, confident and willing to take on the world.
At Nenagh CBS Kelly was a very capable hurler who played in an All-Ireland ‘B’ Colleges final and soon after his love of sport and writing found him working on the Nenagh Guardian and doing a degree at UCG in English and Law at night.
He graduated in 1989 and worked for the Cork Examiner becoming a well-respected sports columnist and award winning business reporter.
He was not long for the Munster championship circuit however and soon he lit out for Dublin where he and Jackie Gallagher eventually started their own PR firm in 1998 after they had both worked at Fleishman-Hillard.
It was the beginning of a dramatic rise in the business world on both sides of the Atlantic, culminating now in Teneo Holdings which numbers numerous Fortune 100 companies and a former US president among its clients and has Tony Blair on its advisory board.
Teneo was formed in June 2011 and already has over 100 employees and offices all over the world. He is the largest shareholder.
Today Kelly will deliver the former American president Bill Clinton to the Worldwide Ireland Fund dinner in Cork where he will oversee the Clinton schedule for the weekend.
His introduction to the Clintons was hardly auspicious. It was at an Irish America magazine event in New York and Kelly had arranged an introduction to Hillary through Irish America founder Niall O’Dowd.
The media crush around the First Lady was so great that Kelly got hit by the sharp edge of a camera and had had to meet the First Lady while staunching blood from a forehead wound.
Despite that awkward beginning, he has gone on to become a major confidante of both Clintons.
He was often at her side during her election battle against Obama and became known as a fundraising wizard, personally raising millions and became a person the Clintons increasingly relied on.
The relationship has continued strong in the post- election years. It will be the fourth time in a little over a year that the president will come to Ireland at the behest of Kelly.
Haiti and Ireland have become favored projects for Clinton after leaving office. The fact that his focus is still on Ireland is down in large part to Kelly and to Clinton remembering his role in the peace process as among the highlights of his presidency.
Kelly advises Clinton and the president is a client of Teneo. He was once on their advisory board but left and remains "a friend and an unpaid adviser to Teneo and its founders," according to his spokesman.
Rumors swirled at the time that all was not well between Teneo and Clinton.
"There was a lot of misinformation and rumours about Clinton and Teneo," says Kelly "There was never a rift or a division, far from it.
"Read what Clinton said at the time'. He said, and I quote: 'I did not sever my financial relationship with Teneo. I changed it ... Because of the help I continue to receive with my business relationships and speaking engagements, as well as with CGI and other philanthropic activities, like the Ireland investment conference, I felt that I should be paying them, not the other way around.' That's pretty self-explanatory."
On Clinton's close associations with Ireland, Kelly said: "He really believes he can help, and he wants to take every opportunity to do so. That's why he will be back in Ireland again and again. I don't think he has visited too many countries more."
If anything, the links between Teneo and Clinton have become even more entwined since.
That is hardly surprising, the president of Teneo is Clinton’s long-time aide Doug Band who is credited with creating the Clinton post-presidency aura which has seen him rise to become the most popular politician in America.
Kelly also raises considerable sums for the Clinton foundation and served as Hillary Clinton’s economic envoy to Northern Ireland for two years and remains close to the former First Lady.
Teneo was also in the headlines recently because it advised the disgraced former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine whose company MF Global recently went bankrupt on the back of disastrous derivative trading.
Kelly is quick to point out that such advice consisted only of monitoring economic trends and preparing a report each morning for Corzine and they were not involved in any trading issues
Either way Corzine is firmly in the rear view mirror for Teneo as their client list rapidly expands.
Coke CEO Muktar Kent is one of Teneo’s clients, recommended by Donald Keough, the former Coca Cola president, who still plays a hugely influential role in that company as a major shareholder and board member.
Keough, a legendary figure in American business and currently chairman of major investment bank Allen and Company, has unabashed admiration for Declan Kelly and how he has burst on the scene in corporate America.
“I’ve wandered around in the world of consultants for a very long time he says from his office in Atlanta “and Kelly is the best.”
“He is simply a great problem solver” he says, You know how many people can tell you what your problems are but never how to solve them?
‘He gets to the core of the problem in a moment and he has the intellectual honesty to tell it straight to his clients, to tell the unvarnished truth but he will never do so without having a proposed
solution as well.”
High praise indeed, for a former journalist for the Nenagh Guardian who has leapfrogged from obscurity to a major place at the corporate table in America.
How did Kelly reach such lofty heights? In a dizzying series of maneuvers, Kelly sold his successful PR firm in Dublin run with Jackie Gallagher for $15 million at the beginning of the Celtic Tiger to Financial Dynamics, a major American communications company, a move
that brought Kelly to the US in 2001.
Kelly then turned around in July 4th 2003 and bought out FD for $43.5 million in a management buyout and turned it into a major player in the PR and consulting world.
Then in 2006 FTI Consulting, one of the biggest fish in the business, acquired FD for $340 million, then the largest price ever paid for a communications firm.
It was considered likely that Kelly would eventually run FTI but he soon became restless and through the Clinton connection was offered the economic envoy to Northern Ireland job in September 2009 which he took while serving out a 2-year non-compete clause with FTI.
He won widespread respect in Northern Ireland for his efforts to promote inward investment even grudgingly from political leaders who found him refreshingly direct in telling them to get the finger out and forget the outmoded practices and dependency on government.
During his tenure major U.S. corporations including Citi, NYSE, Seagate, Dow Chemical, GE Energy and others announced they were creating new jobs there.
He also played a major role in securing the recent Clinton-led economic conference on Ireland in America
Kelly himself is utterly at home in the cutthroat environment in America. He is known not to suffer fools willingly and is clearly a young man in hurry.
He has also fundraised major amounts for organizations such as the children’s hospital in Crumlin and the American Ireland Funds, as well as several non-Irish charities.
But it his connection and bond to President Clinton that has opened up major avenues to him.
In a business where power and influence is everything he has the 800-pound gorilla in his corner.
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