The Rise and Fall of Teneo’s Declan Kelly

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The pitch was the same. You need me. You can’t trust your people. I can fix this.

Executives at General Electric Co. , International Business Machines Corp. , and other global giants had all heard it.

And it was coming from the same businessman: Declan Kelly. A jet-setting public relations professional who in a few years had compiled an international roster of blue-chip clients, Mr. Kelly built on his ties to powerful people like Bill and Hillary Clinton and friendships with business leaders. The leader of Teneo Holdings LLC had become a go-to adviser for CEOs by promising them personalized advice for any crisis.

“The most important question for business today is, do people really trust you?” Mr. Kelly wrote in an annual note to clients in 2018. “At its core, Teneo’s job is to help CEOs follow their true North when the storm obscures the sky.”

That is why Teneo is often hired directly by CEOs, sometimes circumventing boards or other executives, according to executives who were pitched or worked with Teneo as well as current and former Teneo employees.

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