The new chief executive of CT Group, the firm long known for its political dark arts, says politics is now “a smaller part” of its business as it moves to take advantage of the burgeoning corporate demand for specialised advice and intelligence.
Jon de Jager, a UK-based former EY partner, takes the reins of the firm, previously known as Crosby Textor, after co-founder Sir Lynton Crosby stepped down earlier this month after 22 years in charge.
It’s a challenging time for the political side of the business, following the departure of a number of key pollsters, diminished influence in Britain’s Conservative Party, and disquiet in the Liberal Party here about the firm’s approach.
New CT Group CEO Jon de Jager wants clients to shed past perceptions of the firm. Oscar Colman
But Mr de Jager, who does not have a background in polling or political strategy, says the firm’s new focus “is not a case of pivoting away from politics. It’s just a case of there being significant demand for corporate work.”
CT Group has opened offices in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Singapore in the past year and embarked on a hiring spree of former intelligence heads, diplomats and military leaders, as corporate clients demand a forensic level of due diligence on public perception, regulatory challenges and geopolitical risks, despite the bullish sentiment, Mr de Jager says public perception of the firm remains a challenge.
“There’s still a huge perception around where we came from … I want clients to see us for what we are now as opposed to what we might have been 22 years ago,” he said.
Business seeks political strategy
Mr De Jager said the firm sought to apply its experience in politics and polling to its corporate work. “That’s what we were founded on, and this is simply an extension of that,” he said.
Regulatory risks and government relations were seen as key concerns of corporate clients, amid global scepticism of big business, heralding a shift from the firm’s public association with conservative politics.
“We pride ourselves on knowing information before we advise clients … With compliance, that includes who people are, where their backgrounds are and where they come from.
“We are much more about what policy says or what governments do, as opposed to [being associated with] one side of politics. That’s not helpful for our clients.” As it seeks to carve a new path in Australia, military co-operation firms as a key area of growth for the firm’s local operation, where about 30 per cent of its 150 staff are based.
Last month, CT Group recruited former British army head Sir Mark Carleton-Smith as a senior adviser, with a brief to assist clients to take advantage of “commercial opportunities” arising out of the AUKUS defence pact.
“It’s something we’ve been asked to look at a lot, not only domestically, but also from clients who have an international appetite in the context of the [military] framework”.
Sir Lynton, who was awarded a knighthood for his role in securing an unexpected victory for the Conservatives at the 2015 UK election, is stepping back to become executive chairman of the firm. He remains involved in the firm he co-founded with Mark Textor.
“I speak to him twice a day, wherever we are in the world,” Mr de Jager said. “It was a natural evolution for the business. A lot of the changes that are in place today, we’ve been bouncing off each other for many years.”
But the firm is still evolving: “The challenge of what CT group is today remains a challenge for us.”