A Day With… Stuart Kelly

IABC APAC A day with
We’re going behind the scenes with communications professionals across the APAC region, learning more about their diverse roles, what they love most about their jobs, and how they got there in the first place. In the twelfth part of the series, we sat down with Stuart Kelly, Global Head of Corporate Communications, at Indorama Ventures.
Could you describe your role in your current organization?

There are two parts. The first part is typical of any global corporate communications lead at all multinational companies, which is to drive the effective and efficient running of all our many diverse communications programs globally. So, this is no surprise. The second part of my role is to build the corporate communications function from where we were when I joined in 2021 to where we are now. This second part attracted me most to this role because it requires a “builders’ mindset”.

What do I mean by this? My employer grew quickly from a niche family business into a Top 30 global petrochemicals company, mainly through a highly successful era of expansion during which we made some 50 acquisitions over 20 years. It’s fair to say the business grew faster than our corporate functions, including communications. My remit was to develop the corporate communications function from a small, head office-focused, tactical response unit into a global, professional, strategic communications “enabling function”; one befitting a large multinational industry leader. I call it the “builder’s mindset” because anyone in my role knows that when you build a house, the bricks don’t always arrive on Monday as planned. You must accept this as normal, and adapt.

How did you enter the communications industry? (i.e., university study, internships, worked your way into communications, another route?)

Not knowing what to do after completing my BA in South Africa, I fell back on what I enjoyed and was good at. I was curious about everything, from science to politics to sports to history to sociology, you name it. I also knew I could write well and enjoyed doing that very much. Journalism was an obvious choice, and I joined a newspaper. Fortunately, this coincided with the Nelson Mandela era, when South Africa dominated global headlines. From there, I moved into financial journalism. Funny story about that! I was on the night shift alone in the newsroom one night in 1997 when the Asian Financial Crisis struck. I knew nothing about financial markets and had to fathom all these Bloomberg and Reuters reports and make enough sense for a front-page story in our morning edition. And so began my interest in financial communication and investor relations, which eventually led me to the corporate world.

What do you wish you knew about your work when you started?

Any role is never quite what it seems, but I have enough experience to know this. For this role specifically, I thought of it as a “blank sheet of paper” on which I had carte blanche to pour all my 25 years of knowledge and build the communication function I imagined. In reality, the sheet is never entirely blank because so many stakeholders are involved in building a corporate function.

I like that I never had a clear roadmap for my career in general. When I was a newspaper reporter, it never occurred to me that I would move to the corporate world. It was also never apparent to me that I would be fond of financial markets one day. It wouldn’t have been as much fun if I had known all this before.

Briefly describe a ‘day in your life’ as a communications professional today.

It’s busy and varied, which I suspect is a fact of life most corporate communication professionals can identify with. We are still developing many processes that typically exist at a much larger or more established company, which means many of our activities require more attention as we “build as we go”. If you couple this with a corporate culture that is always adapting to change, either with our company or our industry, then it becomes doubly frenetic. This is where I’m very proud of hiring a high-quality team of experienced communications professionals, as I simply can’t deep-dive or micromanage across all our activities.

What’s the best part of your job?

Without a doubt our team of high-quality, experienced communication experts we hired in my first two years. I deliberately looked for a “builder’s mindset” besides the standard communications skill sets. We’re also quite diverse, which means we have the benefit of lots of viewpoints and ideas to work with.

What’s your superpower as a communications professional?

Resilience.

What’s the best piece of communications advice you’ve been given?

The one tidbit that springs to mind is from a former editor in the sports department at my old newspaper. He said the best stories are always about people. “Try to find the people behind every story, and there you have it,” he said.

Do you have a book recommendation for your fellow regional comms professionals?

I wish I had time to read more. Here are several books that I regularly use or recommend:

  1. “How to Write Better Copy” by Steve Harrison. Solid advice for writing well.
  2. “On Writing” by Stephen King. The master of horror explains his craft. Quite brilliant!
  3. “The Bloomberg Way: A Guide for Reporters and Editors”. When I’m training my team on how to write an effective press release, I start with this.
  4. “Neuroscience for Organizational Change” by Hilary Scarlett. We now know so much more about how our brains are wired and how we can communicate more effectively.
  5. “Scaling People: Tactics for Management and Company Building” by Claire Hughes Johnson. I happened to read a good review in The Economist and didn’t regret following through.