Declan Kelly (born 1968) is an Irish-American business executive, entrepreneur, and philanthropist best known as the founder, chairman and CEO of Teneo, an international consulting company based in New York City.
Kelly started his career in the 1980s and 1990s reporting for the Nenagh Guardian, the Tipperary Star, and the Cork Examiner, and in 1994 he received the AT Cross Business Journalist of The Year Award. He afterwards worked in management for Irish communications companies such as FleishmanHillard, and in 1999 he founded his own business, Gallagher and Kelly Public Relations. Selling that firm to Financial Dynamics (FD) in 2000, he subsequently moved to the United States and began consulting for companies such as General Electric, Coca Cola and Dell. When FD was sold to FTI Consulting for USD $340 million, Kelly became FTI's executive vice president and chief integration officer.
In 2007 and 2008 he was a leading adviser to Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign, and in 2009 Clinton appointed him US Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland. During his two-year tenure he worked closely with Invest NI and on the US-Northern Ireland Investment Conference, and was praised for bringing jobs to Ireland by politicians such as Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness, and Owen Paterson. In June 2011 Kelly co-founded Teneo Holdings in New York, and the following year Irish Central dubbed Kelly "this Irish generation’s Tony O'Reilly" for his work in international business. Kelly has served as an adjunct business professor at the NUI Galway and is involved with a number of non-profit and civic organizations, including the Sesame Workshop, the American Ireland Fund, Cooperation Ireland, and GOAL (USA). Currently serving as chairman of the American Associates of the Royal Academy of Arts, he also founded the Northern Ireland Mentorship Program for business graduates, and has been recognized with accolades such as the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. The American Irish Historical Society selected Kelly as the youngest-ever recipient of their gold medal in 2008, which is given to a person "deemed to have made a unique contribution to Irish American society."
Early life and education
Declan Kelly was born in 1968 in Portroe, Nenagh, a village on the banks of Lough Derg in the Irish county of Tipperary. He was born to Nan Kelly and Tom Kelly, and recollects that his father, a laborer from Portroe, had been a "small farmer" who left school at the age of twelve in order to work. Kelly's parents made financial sacrifices to ensure that he and his brother Alan, a future Minister of State, received full educations. At the age of 16 Kelly began working for free as a "cub reporter" for the Nenagh Guardian, while also attending Nenagh CBS at the same time. At Nenagh CBS he competed as a hurler in the All-Ireland ‘B’ Colleges final. While continuing to report during the day and study at night, Kelly attended the National University of Ireland in Galway, Ireland from 1986 until 1989, graduating with a bachelor's degree in English and law.
Journalism and early advising
Working for the Nenagh Guardian during his student years, after 1989 Kelly was hired to report for the Tipperary Star. He became a sports columnist and business reporter for the Cork Examiner in the mid-1990s, and in 1994 he received the AT Cross Business Journalist of The Year Award for his coverage of "an industrial relations crisis in the Irish government." Kelly afterwards held a number of senior management positions with Irish communications companies. In 1995 he became a senior consultant for Murray Consultants in Dublin, which at the time was Ireland's largest public relations firm. He was appointed to the board in 1996, and according to The Independent proved to be the "young protege of the boss, Jim Milton." In 1997 he left Murray Consultants to join the communications company FleishmanHillard, where he was appointed to the board of its Irish subsidiary.
In 1999 he founded his own business, Gallagher and Kelly Public Relations. His partner in the venture, Jackie Gallagher, had previously advised politician Bertie Ahern and has also worked with Kelly at FleishmanHillard. Kelly sold the firm to the communications company Financial Dynamics (FD) for USD$15 million in 2000. Joining FD as a member of their senior management, he moved to the United States in 2001 and was appointed chairman of Financial Dynamics in Ireland in late 2002. Kelly was also appointed global head of business development for FD International, and in September 2002 he became chairman and CEO of Financial Dynamics USA. Kelly was part of the senior management team that "negotiated management buyout of FD International" in July 2003, with management purchasing the company for USD $43.5 million.
As of 2004 he remained president and CEO of FD in the United States, and also managed the company's business dealings in Europe. By that time he had helped corporations such as "General Electric, Coca Cola and Dell to burnish a positive image through the media." In September 2006, Kelly helped oversee the sale of Financial Dynamics to FTI Consulting for USD $340 million, which at the time was the largest sum ever paid for a communications firm. At the same time he joined FTI Consulting Group Limited as their executive vice president and chief integration officer in New York. At FTI he also served as the chairman of the FD US and Ireland divisions. While holding the roles until late 2009, Kelly was "responsible for the operational integration of the company’s various businesses in more than 20 countries." Working with the 3,500-person business, he also had "responsibility for corporate strategy, global business development, global client management and all of the company’s marketing and communications functions."
In 2007 and 2008 he served as "one of the leading advisers" to Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign, also organizing fundraising events for Clinton in New York, San Francisco, and Limerick. Explained the Irish Central, "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." In July 2009 The Independent reported that Kelly was stepping down from his roles at FTI, despite that fact that Kelly had "been touted as a likely potential chief executive... But given his political experience, it was also expected that he could be tapped for some kind of political role. Kelly remained with FTI in a consulting capacity while observing a 2-year non-compete clause with the company.
Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland
In September 2009 Kelly was appointed economic envoy to Northern Ireland by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, promptly traveling to Belfast. In a meeting with the Northern Irish Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster, Kelly asserted that his role would be "confined to economic matters only, and he would have no political function," unlike his predecessors Richard Haass, Mitchell Reiss and George Mitchell. During his tenure he worked closely with Invest NI on projects and events such as the US-Northern Ireland Investment Conference held in October 2010, which he organized. According to the BBC, he was also credited with "having a big impact as a member of the winning Derry bid team for UK City of Culture," with Derry later selected as City of Culture in 2013.
He resigned as US Special Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland on May 11, 2011, with the BBC reporting that Kelly "said he had achieved the goals he had set for himself and the time was right for him to move on." According to the BBC, in his two-year tenure he "helped to create hundreds of jobs," specifically 1,500, with American companies such as Seagate, Dow Chemical, GE Energy, the New York Stock Exchange, Euronext, Citi and Kana Software establishing new jobs in Northern Ireland. Hillary Clinton accompanied his resignation with a public statement praising his tenure, writing that "during his time as envoy, Declan has helped our friends in the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, Invest NI, and the business community make Northern Ireland one of the best per capita attractors of investment in the world." His tenure was also praised by Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness, and later UK Secretary of State Owen Paterson.
From October 2009 until June 2011 Kelly worked as an independent contractor for FTI Consulting. At the end of June Kelly co-founded Teneo Holdings in New York with his long-term colleagues Douglas Band and Paul Keary. Kelly was the largest shareholder, taking on the roles of chairman and co-CEO. Band, a legal advisor to Bill Clinton, became co-CEO and president, while Keary took on the role of COO. It was announced that Teneo would comprise "a merchant bank, a private equity vehicle and an international consulting business." Explained Irish Central in 2012, "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." Teneo was headquartered in New York’s 601 Lexington Avenue building, with announced plans to open offices in Washington D.C., London, Dublin, and Toronto. Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were both announced as members of Teneo's advisory board, with Clinton later becoming a client and unpaid advisor to Teneo and its founders.
As of December 2011, Kelly was serving as an adjunct professor at the NUI Galway in their College of Business, Public Policy and Law. In the spring of 2012 Teneo added the division Teneo Intelligence, which through algorithms "aims to identify trouble spots around the world and analyse their potential effect on global markets." Teneo had 100 employees by June 2012, a number which had risen to 130 employees by August. Teneo had already signed a number of high-profile clients at its founding, and by the summer of 2012 clients included Coca Cola and Donald Keough, among others. On June 22, 2012, Irish Central dubbed Kelly "this Irish generation’s Tony O'Reilly" for his work in international business.
In December 2014, New York private equity firm, BC Partners made a minority investment in Teneo. Thereafter, Teneo grew from operating 6 divisions to 12 divisions, also increasing its headcount both in the United States and internationally. In 2015 Teneo received information requests from the office of Senator Charles Grassley as part of a review into potential ethics issues with a State Department waiver granted to Huma Abedin, a Clinton top aide, allowing her to earn income outside the government. Kelly responded that Teneo was "committed to the highest ethical and professional standards," while Abedin "said her work arrangement was approved by State Department lawyers and that she did no work for Teneo involving the department, nor was she asked to." Abedin had additionally signed a contract pledging she would avoid conflicts with her State Department role when she took the adviser position. Though the issue was seen as controversial by Republicans, The Journal noted that there "was no evidence of any fundraising, donations, or services provided by Teneo executives to the State Department or Hillary Clinton during her time as Secretary of State."
By the summer of 2015 Teneo had advisors on staff such as former US senator George Mitchell, and in July 2015 FIFA hired Teneo. Teneo expanded throughout 2015, purchasing the agencies Blue Rubicon and StockWell in July and Pendomer Communications in October, doubling Teneo's employee count to about 500. As of January 2016, there was speculation in the press that Teneo would purchase Apco, a public relations firm with 600 staff headquartered in the United States. That month Teneo Holdings also expanded into Canada, resulting in Teneo employing 570 people. Kelly remains chairman and CEO of Teneo Holdings, and oversees all 12 operating divisions of the company. He has also been an advisor for companies such as New Mountain Capital, among others.
Involved with a number of non-profit and civic organizations as either a philanthropist or a boardmember, Kelly has been particularly focused on Irish and Irish-American issues. In 2004 he joined the advisory board of New York University's Glucksman Ireland House, and as of 2009 he was chairman of the US Foundation Board at the National University of Ireland, Galway. As of 2012 he had raised "considerable sums" for the Clinton Foundation, as well as the American Ireland Funds and Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin. He has been on the board of the non-profit educational organization Sesame Workshop since 2013, and he has also served on the board of directors for the American Ireland Fund, Cooperation Ireland, and GOAL (USA). In June 2015 he was appointed chairman of the American Associates of the Royal Academy of Arts. Kelly founded and continues to oversee the Northern Ireland Mentorship Program in partnership with the American Ireland Fund, which "enables young university graduates from Northern Ireland to spend a year working within several leading corporations in the United States." The stated goal of the organization is to increase skill and experience in the Northern Irish workforce.
Kelly has been recognized with a number of awards and accolades for his work in journalism, business, and philanthropy. In 1994 he was named the AT Cross Business Journalist of The Year, and in 2005 he was included for the first time in the Business 100 Awards sponsored by Irish America, which lists the "top one hundred Irish American businessmen in the US." Also that year the National University of Ireland, Galway gave Kelly their annual Alumni Award for Business and Commerce. The American Irish Historical Society chose Kelly as their youngest-ever recipient for their gold medal in 2008, which is given annual to "one person deemed to have made a unique contribution to Irish American society." The Queen's University Belfast awarded Kelly an honorary doctorate in 2011 for "his service to the community and economy of Northern Ireland," and later that year Irish America again named him to their annual Business 100 list. The National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations awarded Kelly the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in July 2012, and the following August Business and Finance named him to their annual Global 100 list.
Kelly has both Irish and American citizenship, and he maintains residences in both Portroe, Ireland and New York City with his wife Julia and their family.