Kim Bielenberg on the former Tipperary cub reporter who became a multi-millionaire after selling his PR firm
In newsrooms and public relations companies across Ireland, normally hard-bitten hacks and spin doctors are agog at news filtering out about their one-time colleague, Declan Kelly.
The quintessential 'young man in a hurry' started working for nothing as a cub reporter on the Nenagh Guardian at the age of 16, and caused heads to turn.
Now, after a relatively short career in journalism and public relations in Ireland, Declan Kelly has rapidly transformed himself into Wall Street's King of Spin.
The 38-year-old son of a labourer from Portroe on the banks of Lough Derg this week agreed to sell Financial Dynamics, the public relations company of which he is a major shareholder, for ?268m. His personal profit from the transaction is rumoured to be between ?15m and ?30m.
Like a character from the F Scott Fitzgerald novel, The Great Gatsby, Kelly now moves between boardrooms, his Manhattan apartment and a holiday home in the Hamptons, the glitzy Long Island enclave. His second wife, Julia, is the daughter of a Russian scientist.
In just a short time, he has become one of the most influential figures behind the scenes in corporate America. Kelly has developed Financial Dynamics into the biggest business PR company on Wall Street. He is also developing a reputation as a 'community leader' in Irish America, lobbying American politicians to regularise the situation of illegal Irish immigrants.
His friend, Niall O'Dowd, publisher of the New York-based Irish Voice, has been staggered by Kelly's meteoric rise.
"In my 27 years in New York, he is one of smartest people I have seen to come out of Ireland. Normally it takes many years to figure out how the system works on Wall Street. He seemed to become established instantly when he moved here five years ago," said O'Dowd.
Kelly has made his fortune helping huge corporations such as General Electric, Coca Cola and Dell to burnish a positive image through the media.
When a company hits trouble, his PR operation is actively involved in crisis management and damage limitation.
"He has a talent for working out where a story about a company is leading and how to shape it for the better," said a former colleague.
"He is a brilliant salesman and networker. Part of the reason why he gets by so well is that he believes in good old-fashioned streetsmart lingo. He cuts through a lot of the bullshit and jargon that you find in business."
Public relations, a trade that boosts the image of others, is a profession that has a terrible image problem itself.
The London Times business diarist Martin Waller seemed to sum up the comically begrudging attitude of many on this side of the Atlantic when speculation mounted that the owners of a PR company were set to make a fortune this week:
"For a bunch of useless no-hopers whose only real talent is to pour the drinks and say, 'I'll have to get back to you on that one', it really does make you sick."
The queue of former associates who are ready to heap opprobrium on Kelly, strictly anonymously of course, is as long as the queue of friends and acquaintances willing to express admiration.
When he left the smaller Dublin PR scene for New York, he left many sore toes behind him.
In Dublin, he developed a remarkable knack of winning new clients for his employers, and then taking the business with him.
As a PR man he cut his teeth at Dublin firm Murray consultants, where he was the young protege of the boss, Jim Milton.
But having learnt the tricks of the trade from his mentor, he promptly left for a rival, Fleishmann Hillard Saunders, taking clients with him. He repeated the process when he quit that firm to set up a new company with Bertie Ahern's former adviser, Jackie Gallagher. That partnership also ended in acrimony.
"He is one of life's great self-publicists," remarked a fellow PR employee from the early days somewhat acidly. "Ultimately he promotes himself more than he promotes his clients.
"He was a man who worked 24 hours a day and was always scheming and strategising. Commercial objectives came before loyalty. New York suits him. He's a big talker in the Big Apple."
Kelly seemed to sum up a strand in his own personality when he remarked to a fellow Cork Examiner journalist as they crossed Patrick Street back in the early Nineties: "I have a neck like a jockey's bollocks."
But for all the brickbats, there are many friends, particularly from his early days in journalism, who remember him fondly and continue to admire his derring-do attitude.
Kelly worked as a reporter at the Nenagh Guardian when he was a fifth year pupil at the local Christian Brothers School (where he went on to captain the hurling team to an All-Ireland Colleges B title).
"He came in to work for a whole summer and he lit up the place," said local reporter Peter Gleeson, who also worked with him at the Cork Examiner. "He was always good company. Some people found him cocky, but I always admired his energy. He is unstoppable. He never sits still and will never rest a day."
He was a star student of Law and English at University College Galway, while at the same time holding down his job at The Guardian and producing up to eight stories a week. As a president of the Junior Chamber in Nenagh, he organised the distribution of smoke alarms to the elderly in the town.
He has used his philanthropic skills to good effect in the United States, building a network of business contacts through his work in the Ireland Fund and other Irish charitable ventures. He offers his services to the Irish immigration lobby in the US without taking a fee, and has won considerable respect as a result.
His talents as an organiser and networker once suggested a career in politics. He was once mooted as a Labour candidate in Tipperary, but he did not pursue it. Instead he has used his skills to work at the interface between politics, business and the media.
He may have been the bright new kid on the block when he moved on from Nenagh to the Cork Examiner, where he won an AT Cross Business Journalist of the Year Award in 1994, but that did not stop his bosses poking fun at him occasionally.
A news editor told him to go to a conference on breastfeeding and instructed him, tongue-in-cheek, to make sure that he attended a practical demonstration. Kelly balked at this and exclaimed, "There's no f***ing way I'm doing that."
Kelly may now move with the Gordon Gekkos of this world on Wall Street, but he still maintains strong links with home. As well as his retreat on Long Island, he has a house near his parents, Tom and Nan, overlooking Lough Derg. Among his less well known talents are his Flatleyesque skills as an Irish dancer.
Friends reckon that he gets much of his energy from his mother Nan. Like Kelly himself, she is said to be a "local dynamo".
"He may be becoming one of the most powerful characters in Wall Street, but he is not a man who will forget his roots," says Niall O'Dowd.
And as he blazes a trail across the corporate world, leaving a few casualties in his path, you can be sure that his roots will not forget him.