| 12.5°C Belfast

‘The name Tom Brady is a pretty powerful one to be coming back with’: Scandal-hit Declan Kelly has signed up NFL star

Fearghal O’Connor investigates how Brady gives the former US economy envoy to NI the comeback he needed

Close

Tom Brady in action for Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady in action for Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Getty Images

Tom Brady in action for Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady shocked America by coming out of retirement in March, just 40 days after threatening to upstage the Super Bowl, by announcing the end of his glittering American football career.

I’ve realised my place is still on the field and not in the stands,” he said on Twitter.

The line could well have been co-opted by his new partner, Irishman and former Teneo boss Declan Kelly, the former US special economic envoy to Northern Ireland. 

He too has quietly executed an even more stunning resurrection after allegations forced his departure from Teneo.

When news broke last week that Kelly had bagged Brady – known to American football fans as The Greatest of All Time – for his new Madison Avenue firm Consello, there was shock and admiration across the wider PR sector. 

“Declan was always the guy with people on speed dial who would automatically pick up,” said one well informed source. 

“But over recent months that might have got more difficult. But I don’t care who you are, the name Tom Brady is a pretty powerful one to be coming back with.

Weekly Business Digest

Margaret Canning’s selection of the must-read business stories straight to your inbox every Tuesday morning

This field is required

“The fact that somebody like Brady – who is known to be shrewd – would engage with Kelly, given where he was at just 10 months ago, says something to a whole range of other stakeholders.” 

Another bemused source agreed: “I can certainly see what is in this for Declan Kelly but what is in it for Tom Brady? That’s harder to say.” 

And Brady is just one of Kelly’s big signings. Other partners include Uber co-founder Oscar Salazar and Steve Mollenkopf, former CEO of Qualcomm. Kelly’s new Madison Avenue address shares a city block with the Trump Tower and the iconic Tiffany & Co. 

“When I heard he got Brady, my first reaction was ‘f***ing hell, he has done it again!’,” said one former colleague. “And he did it in just 10 months. 

“Tom Brady isn’t even the number one catch there to be honest. If there really was an issue with Declan, those people would not be involved.

"They are the sort of people who do their due diligence.” 

Another old colleague agreed: “This is classic playbook for Declan Kelly. It certainly announces that he is back.” 

Nothing seemed impossible for Kelly, said the source: “We would be laughing coming out of meetings thinking ‘wow are we actually going to do this?’ because he would be promising the world. It would worry me at times but he would find a way of delivering.” 

Close

Declan Kelly

Declan Kelly

Getty Images for Global Citizen

Declan Kelly

For Kelly, 2021 had been a personal and professional disaster. He has a record of success in a cut-throat sector, from Financial Dynamics, to FTI Consulting, to adviser for Hillary Clinton, to building Teneo into a global consulting giant.

Between 2009 and 2011, he served as special US economy envoy to Northern Ireland, an appointment made by Mrs Clinton when she was US secretary of state.  

But in late June his high-powered career came to a shuddering halt when the Financial Times reported allegations of drunken misconduct at a fundraising concert six weeks previously.

A spokesperson for Kelly was quoted as saying that he had “became inebriated and
behaved inappropriately towards some women and men at the event”. 

Kelly resigned saying he had “committed to sobriety” and was “undertaking ongoing counselling”. More than one source described the Tipperary man as
“marmite”.

But all said the allegations seemed uncharacteristic. “I suspect he was burning the candle
at both ends,” said one industry insider. 

“I would have said over the years, he was energetic, full of bravado, driven, at times awfully unreasonable, greedy, gregarious … all of those things. But never anything like what was suggested.” 

But Kelly’s style in business has burned lots of bridges: “If you were looking for a short list of people who could have been motivated to leak something, well it wouldn’t be that short a list.”

Leaving Teneo, Kelly himself claimed there was “a campaign against the reputation of our firm”. 

“Clearly he was taken down,” says a former colleague. “You get drunk in LA and six weeks later, it is in the Financial Times in London.

“That doesn’t just happen by accident. You can’t build an enormous business over 10 years without breaking a few eggs on the way up. “

But others in the industry, less persuaded by his charm, expressed surprise that he had re-emerged so soon. “He will want to reposition his legacy,” said one insider.

"He is resilient and terribly proud. For Declan, ego matters. He was taken out at his peak by the allegations.

"That is not how Declan Kelly wants to be remembered. And in his line of work there is a relatively narrow window in which you lose your relevance and are seen as yesterday’s man. 

“He could have retired 10 times over with the money he has made but I can see why this makes sense for him.

“He has the abilities and the contacts to make it work. But with the nature of the allegations, there will be brands that won’t touch him with a barge pole.” 

But Kelly has long used big name signings – not least from the sporting world – as a door opener to wider business. In 2016, at Teneo, he signed up Brian O’Driscoll as a senior adviser. He has worked with golfers Graham McDowell and Pádraig Harrington. 

“Teneo, and before it FTI, were big-four type businesses – the upper echelons,” said another former colleague.

“I don’t see that being possible this time. But I’d imagine he has gone to Brady with a business plan and said ‘here’s where I see you over the next three to five years’. 

“He will have convinced him of the value of it and I can almost hear him tell
the story,” he said.


Privacy