Disgraced CEO whisperer Declan Kelly — who has pegged his return from exile on the horns of the GOAT — has a steep hill to climb to fully rehabilitate his image after his spectacular downfall as boss of public relations giant Teneo, people close to the PR whiz told The Post.
The former Clinton fixer and adviser to Fortune 500 titans resigned as Teneo’s CEO over sexual misconduct last year.
He had gotten drunk at a VIP fund-raiser thrown by anti-poverty charity Global Citizen in Los Angeles on May 2, 2021, and, according to sources, inappropriately touched as many as six employees at the star-filled gala.
Kelly, 54, acknowledged the incident as an “inadvertent, public and embarrassing mistake” and added he “apologized to those directly affected, as well as [to] my colleagues and clients” but he still left the firm he founded in 2011.
He returned to his native Ireland for a few months and spent time with family, a source with knowledge told The Post.
“He fled the country, he was so embarrassed about the Teneo ouster,” the source added.
By July, he set up his next venture, The Consello Group, according to public filings. He has since returned to the US and last month made a splash with the announcement that seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, the NFL’s Greatest Of All Time, will join his nascent consulting firm as a partner.
Bringing in Brady
People who know Kelly say they aren’t surprised he would target someone with major star power like Brady to lead his comeback, given Kelly’s playbook is to recruit eye-popping names to his firm.
According to a source, Kelly emphasized his new business would focus on crypto — one of Brady’s main interests. Brady and supermodel wife Gisele Bündchen own a stake in crypto trading behemoth FTX; Brady also started NFT platform Autograph.
“Kelly is the best at figuring out what people want to hear and exploiting it. He can lure anyone in,” a source who used to work with Kelly told The Post.
A spokesperson for Brady declined comment.
Despite the addition of Brady, Kelly’s former employees warn his behavior when he first started Teneo may come back to haunt him.
“In the early days of Teneo, he encouraged certain employees to call him daddy,” one former staffer told The Post.
“He rules by fear,” another former employee said. This source adds Kelly told drivers not to speak to him.
Kelly would also try and project a persona of someone who had pulled himself up from his own bootstraps — and relied on anecdotes he believed employees would find compelling, sources said.
“At all staff presentations, he would use a black-and-white stock images of a couple in front of a burned down house and say they were a picture of his parents,” a source said.
Another source noted he would talk about his impoverished parents and share odd details — he claimed his parents used an outhouse and that his father couldn’t read until he was 40.
“I spoke with people who knew Declan in Ireland and they all knew him to be solidly middle class,” another source adds. “But Declan didn’t let truth get in the way.”
Kelly refused requests for comment from The Post.
Kelly, who had deep political ties and was able to nab Bill Clinton and former Prime Minister Tony Blair for his Teneo board, previously peddled access to important political figures as part of the reason he could charge top dollar for his services. He was even appointed Special Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland by Hillary Clinton in 2009.
The reason he’s having to bring on athletes, the former workers added, is because he’s alienated many of his longtime political allies.
“He pissed the Clintons off,” a former Kelly confidante said. “They felt used and haven’t spoken in years.”
Neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton responded to a request for comment.
His connections allowed him to charge unheard of fees in the industry.
Dow Chemical doled out millions, including a multi-million success fee one year when company CEO Andrew Liveris got three front page covers in the Wall Street Journal.
“One year, Declan put Andrew with Obama 13 times on stage… that’s how you get those big fees,” a source said.
One PR industry expert told The Post: “Clients paid for pixie dust. I can see how Dow would value Bill Clinton getting [Liveris] a meeting but Tom Brady can’t do that,”
What is shocking industry insiders — perhaps even more than a superstar quarterback coming on board — is that Kelly hasn’t been sued by private equity firm CVC that bought his stake when he was dumped by Teneo.
When he left, Kelly signed a non-compete clause that prohibited him from opening a firm too similar to Teneo, sources told The Post.
Some sources note Kelly is cozy with CVC management. These sources suggest Kelly may still have a stake in Teneo and could still be moving puppet strings behind the scenes.
“He was very strategic about building relationships with CEOs and those CEOs will only work with him and not Teneo,” a source said.
CVC is privately owned and doesn’t disclose financials and wouldn’t comment on whether Kelly still retains a stake in Teneo. People close to CVC told The Post that Teneo’s valuation was roughly $700 million.
While it’s unclear just why CVC has so far chosen not to pursue legal action against Kelly’s new firm, some sources told The Post it could be an indication CVC and Kelly want to join forces down the line.
CVC declined to comment.
Kelly has also added some of his top clients at Teneo to bolster the Consello team. Steve Mollenkopf, former chief executive officer at Qualcomm — a company that worked extensively with Teneo — is a partner at the firm, according to the company’s site.
Kelly Kramer, former chief financial officer at Cisco — another longtime Kelly client — is a senior advisor.
His old firm still maintains a powerhouse roster, including General Electric and Coca Cola, but the company is struggling after Kelly’s departure given most top dogs had a relationship with him and not the firm, sources add.
Some people close to the company even speculate the consulting firm may not be able to survive much longer. Ursula Burns — the longtime Xerox CEO who took the helm after Kelly left — is “checked out,” insiders say, and more focused on an upcoming move than bringing in more clients.
“She did a town hall meeting with staff who are concerned about departures of clients and fellow employees,” a source told The Post. “Instead of addressing the issues at hand she talked about her move to Florida and inability to get furniture due to supply chain,” one source griped.
A source familiar with Teneo’s inner workings rejected those claims.
“Ursula doesn’t do anything less than 100%. She’s been very active working with Teneo clients and employees.”