Oral Histories

Bill Margaritis

Interview Segments on Topic: Arthur Page/Principles/Society/Center

Bill Margaritis Biography

Bill Margaritis is the executive VP of corporpate affairs at Hilton Worldwide. Previously, he was corporate vice president for global communications and investor relations for FedEx Corporation.


INTERVIEWER: There’s a sense that the counseling role of public relations is not as vigorous or important in the corporate world as it once was and I wanted to get your feelings about that.

MARGARITIS: With all due respect, I do not agree that counseling as part of the profession has gone backwards. Let me answer that a different way. I respectfully disagree that counseling is not an important attribute of a communications executive these days. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. Best I can tell, the executives I speak with—not only at FedEx but at many other companies around the world—are expecting their communications people to be more strategic counselors. They want them to be problem solvers, to build consensus, to see around the corner, to ascertain what the vulnerabilities of the corporation are; to build a consensus between HR, legal, marketing, and other folks, and IT; to put systems in place so that you can attract and retain the millennial generation. You know, advanced communication systems, for example. All of this gives us an opportunity to add more value as counselors as opposed to being order takers. And I think the profession has transcended itself from being a message machine or a spin machine or doing slick annual reports and producing wonderful press releases to one that really deals with complex problems, interesting opportunities on a global scale, navigating the Internet landscape and this kind of, very fractious stake-holder environment we live in now. And to have not only a seat at the table but to be able to lead the discussion at the table. And if you think about why that is, in my opinion, it’s because things are moving so fast in the world. Things are now so much more complex. Companies, everyone, are trying to be more efficient, more productive. They’re trying to innovate. This is bringing about enormous change in sales forces and IT departments, in pricing, in operations. And so, in the effort to become more productive and efficient, there’s enormous change going on, on one hand. With respect to the outside world, consumer expectations have changed dramatically. Competitive dynamics have changed dramatically. Technology can make you obsolete overnight. So with all this complexity, all this speed, all this dynamic, turbulent kind of environment we live in, our clients are coming to us and saying, ‘Help. Help us figure this out. My job is on the line, the success of my team is on the line, we need someone with your skill set, with your antenna, with your judgment, with your capability to read nuances and build consensus. Help people understand why we need to change, why we need to make these adjustments and get buy-in.’ And buy-in is one of the most important things you can have in a corporation. If people don’t buy what you’re trying to do, you will have a disconnect. And that’s not a pretty picture. So I’m excited about where we are. I’m really excited about where we’re going. I’m so happy that it’s really kind of come around, sort of a back to the future. This is what Arthur Page, I think, articulated very well and embodied so well back in his hay day. He was a counselor. He understood the power of adding value to the business. He understood that our license to operate was predicated upon whether the public gave us approval or not. He knew that there were complex issues out there that required a 360 degree view of the world and not some linear view of only the customer or the investor or the employee. So it’s kind of like now I feel like we’re back to the future. And the things that Page articulated are now becoming so important for all of us.

INTERVIEWER: That is really exciting the way you put that.

INTERVIEWER: We’ve covered a lot of ground. Is there anything that you want to talk about or add that we haven’t covered in terms of thinking about ethics and integrity in corporate communication?

MARGARITIS: One area that I worry about a little bit for our profession is whether we have a strong enough training and education curriculum through the school systems. Because, of all the profound changes we’ve talked about in the profession, it’s really important that the academic programs, in either undergraduate or graduate school systems are commensurate with what companies or agencies or nonprofits are looking for in their communications executives. Many professions like IT and the medical community and the legal community have done a fantastic job of building seed programs in the school system in order to better prepare them when they come into the ‘real world,’ so to speak. I think we have gaps. We have an opportunity to close those gaps by forging a stronger partnership between the corporate practitioners and organizations like Arthur Page (Society) and the (Arthur W.) Page Center, and our academic institutions. Because we have a lot of very smart people who are professors in a lot of great universities and they want to do the right thing. They understand. But it’s going to take, I think, a lot of work to build a stronger foundation. The worst thing we can do is to have people come in who are interested and all of a sudden not succeed or have a huge gap between what we expect and what they’re capable of doing. That causes a lot of issues. So that’s the one area that I think about our industry that needs some attention going forward.