Oral Histories

Richard Edelman

Interview Segments on Topic: Crisis Management

Richard Edelman Biography

Richard Edelman is the president and CEO of the world's largest independent public relations firm with wholly-owned offices in 53 cities and more than 3,600 employees worldwide. He was named president and CEO in September 1996. Prior to that, he served as president of Edelman's U.S. operations, regional manager of Europe and manager of the firm's New York office.

Richard has extensive experience in marketing and reputation management, with current assignments for the National Dairy Council, Hewlett-Packard, McGraw-Hill and Scotts Miracle Gro. He has counseled several countries on economic development programs, including Egypt, Israel and Mexico.

Richard won the Silver Anvil, the highest award in the public relations industry, in 1981. He was named "Best Manager of the Year" by Inside PR magazine in 1995. In 2006, he was awarded "Entrepreneur of the Year 2006 - NY Metropolitan Area" by Ernst & Young. Richard was named the "Most Powerful PR Executive" by PR Week in October 2008, for the second year in a row, and "Agency Executive of the Year" by AdAge in January 2008. In 2010, he was named one of "America's Favorite Bosses" (#8) by Forbes.

He serves on the Board of Directors of the Ad Council, the Atlantic Council, the Children's Aid Society and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. He is also a member of the World Economic Forum, the Arthur Page Society and PR Seminar.


BOLTON: Did you have much of an operation here [in New York] at that time?

EDELMAN: We had about 12 or 15 people and the best part was I got to work for a guy named Dick Aurelio who had been deputy mayor under John Lindsay in New York and all of a sudden got into Hooker Chemical at Love Canal, and the Pan-Am National Airlines merger, and hazardous waste citing for PPG, and Nestle through the formula boycott. So all of a sudden I was thrust into crisis management at a pretty rapid clip.

BOLTON: And it sounds like a different kind of work than your father had really contemplated when he founded the firm, as you explained a few moments ago, with a focus on marketing and public relations. It’s crisis work that you were doing.

EDELMAN: I think that’s right. I think Aurelio brought us really into that kind of crisis work. Also our DC office had done the Concorde landing rights issue, which was all related to environment. Aurelio had been very central to that cause of the JFK Airport noise issue. It was logical for me to get trained in that way.

BOLTON: And now you’re CEO.

EDELMAN: Yeah. Can you believe it?

BOLTON: Yes I can. When did you become CEO?

EDELMAN: I became CEO in ’97, I was 43 and my dad was 77.   I had been manager of the New York office at the tender age of 26, if you can believe. We didn’t have anyone in the office really over 30 and we took the office from 15 people to about 150 people in a ten-year period. I was moved over to run Edelman in Europe for about 2 ½ years. I never moved actually. I sort of felt like Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” showing up at the hotel with my toothbrush. Stewardesses all kind of knew me because I would go back and forth. Actually, my wife, who then was working as an investment banker, made more money than I did, so it didn’t make sense for us to move, so I just commuted. So, that was an excellent experience, really rounding me out – what would and wouldn’t work. Then I came back and was COO with my dad for two years and then in ’97 got the CEO job.