Former U.S. ambassador to Britain brings renaissance life to Charleston

Charleston Post and Courier
March 1, 2001

Former ambassador to Britain, Phil Lader, looks out from his office Thursday on Meeting Street overlooking St. Philip’s Episcopal Church graveyard. In his last big speech as ambassador to Britain, Philip Lader plugged Charleston – so to speak.

Lader, following tradition, addressed the Pilgrims honorary society in London.

His talk honed in on the Society of the Cincinnati. The society, named for Roman citizen-soldier Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus who gave up military life to return to his farm, was formed in 1783 by U.S. officers who served in the Revolutionary War.

“I’m telling this to the people we beat,” Lader quipped last week as he settled into his first day at work at his new office at Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough law firm in Charleston.

George Washington, he said, was the society’s first president. Second and third? Charleston natives and diplomats Charles C. Pinckney and Thomas Pinckney – also the last South Carolinian to be envoy to England, 1792 to 1796.

Lader said he gave his farewell, simply: “I’m going back to the plow.”

The plow in this case is his multipronged assignments as Nelson Mullins lawyer assisting international clients, chairman of the world’s largest advertising firm WPP Group PLC and senior adviser to Morgan Stanley International investment banking unit.

He also is succeeding the new U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the board of the influential think tank, the Rand Corp. And he plans to be affiliated with several South Carolina colleges and universities. He would not name them, noting that announcements would be forthcoming.

Lader’s globetrotting presence is bound to bring publicity to the Charleston area in business and financial circles.

It helps that Charleston already is “well known and well loved” overseas said Lader, who spent three-and-a-half years at the Court of St. James.

Some colleagues were puzzled, expecting him to return to a business or political center such as Washington, D.C., or New York City. But Lader, a New York native who has lived in South Carolina for decades, said all three employers gave him the opportunity to live where he wanted. He chose Charleston. “I know of no better place in the world,” he said.

Lader said he is house hunting. He wants to be in walking distance of Nelson Mullins’ complex at 151 Meeting Street.

He said he is aware of the city’s long and storied history.

“I’m especially touched that my office here will be overlooking St. Philip’s (Episcopal) churchyard,” where Thomas Pinckney is buried.

At his London home, Lader had a series of miniatures on loan including a Charles Fraser original of Pinckney. He recently returned it to its owner, Charleston businessman Charles Duell. Pinckney’s portrait is on the back cover of Lader’s book, the “American Experience.” Lader plans to spend half his time with Nelson Mullins, spending some time in its Munich office.

“We’re very excited with Phil being here,” said Richard A. Farrier Jr., partner in the 35-attorney Charleston office. Lader is expected to be a catalyst in the globalization and growth of the Charleston area, he said.

The steadily growing law firm, which also has offices in Greenville, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Charlotte and Atlanta, brought back former South Carolina governor and U.S. Education Secretary Dick Riley last month.

Lader is a businessman who at various times has taken on management roles.
He was U.S. Small Business Administration director in the Clinton administration, head of Sea Pines Co. at Hilton Head Island, managed Sir James Goldsmith’s U.S. stable of land and forest products holdings, and was Winthrop University president.

He is also a politician who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1986 and is mentioned from time to time as a candidate for higher office, including filling out Sen. Strom Thurmond’s term if he could not do so.

Lader steered clear of those questions last week.

He said out of respect to Thurmond, he would not consider filling out the term. He said he wants to leave talk of political office for another day.

Lader and his wife Linda are noted as the creators and hosts of the non-partisan Renaissance Weekend, the Hilton Head think-fest that gained fame when regulars Bill and Hillary Clinton became president and first lady.

The Laders have extended the weekends into six events a year, including one this month at Kiawah Island. Lader did not say if the Clintons would be attending any of the weekends. He said regulars include eight former presidential candidates – four Republicans and four Democrats – and “all are welcome.”

Asked about the Clinton pardon controversy, Lader said, “I was proud to serve my country in his administration. But frankly, there are things I just don’t understand, some of which I find personally objectionable,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Lader, 54, said that his focus at least for now is on business. He travels to London next week to meet with Morgan Stanley partners. The following week, he is in Munich at Nelson Mullins’ office, then in Berlin to chair his first, two-day meeting of WPP, then back to Kiawah Island for the Renaissance Weekend. At WPP, he succeeds former Philip Morris Co. chief executive officer Hamish Maxwell, who is 73, and will work with WPP’s forceful CEO Martin Sorrell. London-based WPP is parent of a slew of big name ad agencies including J. Walter Thompson, Oglivy & Mather, Hill & Knowlton, Young & Rubicam and Burson-Marsteller. Its accounts include Ford Motor Co. and Gillette.

Lader said this international exposure will give name recognition to Charleston. For instance, corporate biographies and other information will note that he lives here.

“I would hope through my partnership I can help in a small way to demonstrate what a remarkable place this city is,” Lader said. Still, this worldly public servant, educator and corporate manager does have one personal wish to improve Charleston.

“To have a good barbecue place close by,” he said.

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