After South African Scandal, Bell Pottinger chief quits, firm unlikely to survive
The chief executive of Bell Pottinger, James Henderson, has formally resigned amid a scandal at the public relations firm over its racially divisive campaign for the wealthy and controversial Gupta family in South Africa.
The chief executive of nearly five years who owns 40 per cent of the agency said in reference to the firm’s work with Oakbay Capital: “I feel deeply let down by the colleagues who misled me. However, I think it is important I take proper accountability for what has happened.”
While Henderson denied any initiation or involvement in the Oakbay account, he said he accepts that as chief executive, he has “ultimate executive responsibility for Bell Pottinger”.
“I have also striven to put the best interests of Bell Pottinger and its brilliant staff first, and it is for that reason that I am stepping down today.”
Bell Pottinger was hired by Gupta-owned Oakbay Capital last year to improve the reputation of the billionaire family, which stands accused of exploiting its relationship with South African President Jacob Zuma for private gain.
Oakbay was paying Bell Pottinger £100,000 a month for its lobby and PR advice. The firm cancelled the contract with Oakbay in April.
Bell Pottinger subsequently lost several of its biggest clients. It was also expelled from trade body the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA).
Speaking on the BBC’S Newsnight program recently, former CEO Tim Bell said the company would “almost certainly” not be able to survive the scandal.
Bell resigned from his agency in August 2016 partly due to “the Gupta account,” he said on Newsnight. Bell Pottinger has previously worked for the Pinochet Foundation, Syria’s first lady Asma al-assad and FW de Klerk.