BT’s plans to dominate the global telecoms market hit the headlines last
week with the announcement that its joint venture with US telecoms giant
MCI, known as Concert, will be developed into a full-blown merger. And
Kathleen Flaherty, BT’s first business communications marketing
director, is the woman who helped create that brand.
Flaherty is the new face of BT’s massive business communications
operation and she has a reputation for being a tough woman. She has
already poached one of the brightest men in marketing, Dominic Owens,
from arch-rival Mercury Communications.
A super-cool business woman, she is cautious until she feels she can
trust you. She is highly respected by her colleagues for her
intelligence and decisiveness, but is said to have a short fuse when
things aren’t going her way. However, she’s reputed to be able to ‘cope’
with the infamous BT consultant Ed Carter, known for grinding down
Although BT is coy about budgets and marketing spends, the business
unit, which covers everything from home offices to multinational
corporations, is thought to make up over half of its pounds 3.64bn
In marketing terms, however, the business side of the company has
generally been viewed as something of the poor relation to the might of
Flaherty wants to change that. She is one of the new wave of marketers
BT has brought in from abroad; evidence of its commitment to building a
global telecoms brand. Flaherty is a US import, here because of her
awesome knowledge of marketing telecoms in a competitive environment.
Leslie Butterfield, chairman of BDDH, says Flaherty’s competitive edge
is key: ‘She thinks in a competitive way and that gives her a lot of
clarity about competitive strategies.’
Her pedigree includes almost 13 years with MCI, which led to her being
made senior vice-president of worldwide sales and marketing for Concert.
She says there has been little opposition to the North American invasion
(BT’s consumer marketing director, Mike Wagner, is Canadian and Ed
Carter is American).
‘People comment on it but management of BT has made a very considered
decision to bring in people with competitive experience. My most
pleasant surprise is the reception I’ve had. I didn’t think it was going
to be that easy. I’ve worked in organisations as the new guy and it’s
not been pleasant,’ says Flaherty.
But even if the reception at BT had been less welcoming, you get the
feeling it would not have discouraged Flaherty. And being the first
person to hold the job - the function had previously been split three
ways - did not frighten her. ‘It’s my speciality, coming in and making
the rules, and hopefully leaving something behind that works well,’ she
One colleague who knows her well is Liz Wallace. She held the marketing
communications position under Flaherty before moving on to head employee
communications for BT. Wallace says: ‘People have welcomed her because
she doesn’t lord it. She didn’t come in saying ‘I know everything’. She
listened and she’s very open about how much she has learnt.’
Both Flaherty and Wallace worked hard on BT’s business advertising and
the most recent ensemble campaign from BDDH carries Flaherty’s hallmark.
The idea is a reworking of a similar campaign for MCI in the US, but
Flaherty was a force behind sharpening the campaign and making it more
gritty, something acknowledged by Butterfield.
Despite her ‘buttoned down’ manner, as one colleague described it, get
her on the right subject and she has a keen sense of humour and is
apparently all too happy to become ‘one of the girls’ after work.
Establishing a social life in England has been important as her husband
is still based in the US. But she even takes this mammoth commute in her
stride, and says they manage to see each other every couple of weeks, on
one or other side of the Atlantic. The distance did not put her off
coming, and with her children at university she says the timing was
But with BT building a global empire and Flaherty’s personal commitments
on the other side of the Atlantic it is possible that the woman who has
made such an impression on BT’s UK business marketing may soon be taking
her expertise to other shores.
1981-1984 Network engineering - manager to director positions, MCI
1985-1986 Corporate vice-president - financial operations, MCI
1986-1993 Vice-president - national accounts sales/marketing, MCI
1993-1995 Senior vice-president - worldwide sales and marketing, Concert
1995-present Marketing director - business communications, BT