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A key figure at Teneo quit in disgust — and others could follow him out the door

  • Samuel Davis, head of digital, has resigned from public relations firm Teneo.
  • His exit comes after CEO Declan Kelly resigned following allegations of inappropriate behavior.
  • Sources said other employees are calling around to recruiters, looking to leave.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Staff at communications agency Teneo are ready to defect after CEO and cofounder Declan Kelly’s sudden departure Tuesday following allegations of drunken misconduct and inappropriate touching at a charity event.

One source said Samuel Davis, Teneo’s head of digital, quit the firm in disgust on Friday in response to a Financial Times report that previous day alleging drunken misconduct by Kelly. A call to Davis was not immediately returned.

Several sources told Insider that employees are variously calling around to recruiters, trying to set up lunches with industry pals, and sharing LinkedIn pages in the hopes of getting hired elsewhere.

A recruiter who specializes in the public relations industry said that eight Teneo executives at the SVP level and above have sought the firm’s help finding new jobs between Monday and Tuesday — more than they’d ever seen from Teneo in such a short period of time. (A LinkedIn search turned up about 50 SVPs at Teneo.)

Teneo, set up by two former Clinton aides, grew into a multi-million dollar business employing more than one thousand people and making a name for itself pitching its ability to help chief executives burnish their personal reputations. The CVC Capital Partners-controlled Teneo charges among the top rates for communications counsel; one person familiar with industry rates said Teneo charges between $200,000 and $300,000 per month.

Kelly had won business by pitching CEOs directly and leaping over chief communications executives. His audacious pitches earned him the industry nickname “50/50 Kelly,” meant to suggest half of those pitches fell on deaf ears and the other half were seduced by his entreaties.

“Half the reason CVC  invested was because of Declan. It’s hard to envision the firm without Declan,” said one person familiar with the situation.

Kelly’s is Teneo’s latest leadership exit. His fellow cofounder, Doug Band, left in December, and vice chairman Richard Powell left in May for Chobani, according to his LinkedIn page.

Teneo will now be helmed by its chief operating officer, Paul Keary, and some observers wondered if Kelly’s exit would lead to more defections since the business was built on Kelly’s personality.

One person familiar with the company wondered if senior advisors to the firm such as former Sen. Chris Dodd and former House Speaker Paul Ryan would stay on.

The melt-down is being met with Schadenfreude among former top communications executives who felt squeezed by Teneo and rival firms looking to pick up new business. 

“This is amazing — it’s like Christmas came early,” one former employee said of the Kelly debacle.

GM cut ties with the company last week. It’s unclear whether more clients will follow suit. Other Teneo clients include ex-Disney exec Kevin Mayer, former IBM CEO Ginny Rometty, Dow Chemical, Purdue Pharma, and the Saudi government.

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