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Michael Willard Biography: The official versionMichael Willard has had a varied career as a newsman, political and policy advisor to U.S. Senators, senior public relations counselor, author and entrepreneur.
Before becoming a founding partner of The Willard Group, he was managing director and market leader of Burson- Marsteller's operations in Russia and Ukraine, supervising services in public relations, research, governmental relations, special events and advertising.
Willard has worked in Eastern Europe for more than 13 years. In 1998 he purchased the Kyiv office of Burson-Marsteller and formed The Willard Group Companies. In 2001, the company opened a Moscow office, in 2005 an Istanbul office, in 2007 a Donetsk office, employing nearly 100 people throughout the system.
Willard launched B-M's first commercial operation in Ukraine in 1996 and in 1997 helped lead the Russian B-M team to a successful transition from government-funded projects to commercial work.
First coming to the former Soviet Union in 1994, Willard led B-M's largest government funded project in the region, the Ukraine Market Reform Education Program.
During this period, Willard provided counsel to the Bosnian government in Sarajevo on issues not resolved in the Dayton Peace Accords, working directly with the Prime Minister. Today Willard serves as a policy advisor to several Central and East European governments.
Prior to joining B-M, Willard was president and owner of Willard & Associates for nearly a decade before selling the advertising/public relations agency to his employees. During this time, he built W&A into a multi-million company with offices in Charleston, WV and Washington, DC.
Willard was director of U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd's Democratic Leader's office when Byrd held that position, also serving in the capacity of communications, foreign affairs and domestic policy advisor for seven years.
Joining Byrd's office as press secretary, Willard quickly became a top advisor, traveling with Byrd to visit world leaders in the senator's capacity as Presidential Emissary for President Jimmy Carter.
As an advisor to Byrd, Willard organized discussions with TV networks that led to the first televised coverage of the U.S. Senate.
Additionally, Mr. Willard led various Senate Democratic Policy Committee and Intelligence Committee staff delegations to Central America (El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama) in the 1980s, meeting with government officials and opposing party and guerrilla leaders.
Wanting to open a business in West Virginia, Willard first returned to the state as Communications Director for then Gov. John D.Rockefeller IV. Willard served as a political advisor to Rockefeller in his successful bid to win a U.S. Senate seat.
Prior to joining Byrd, Willard was State Manager for United Press International in Kentucky and then West Virginia. Early in his career, Willard was a reporter on various newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Tampa Times. He covered civil rights disturbances throughout the South, and the early lunar missile shots at Cape Canaveral.
Willard first joined Burson-Marsteller in the firm's Washington office, heading the office's media group and participating in the crisis simulation and media training teams.
Willard is the author of four nonfiction works, The Flak: A PR Journey, published in May, 2003; Dancing With the Bear: Crisis Management in Eastern Europe, published April 2000, The Accidental Headline, a media training book published in the summer 2001 and The Portfolio Bubble: Surviving Professionally at 60, published in 2005. One of Willard's books, The Flak, was released in 2004 in Russian as PRschik (PR man).
Willard also serves as publisher and a columnist of The Ukrainian Observer, a 20-thousand circulation monthly general interest magazine. His column "Random Notes" has appeared in the magazine for five years. He is currently working on a book dealing with the professional workplace.
A native of Vidalia, Georgia, Willard calls Charleston, West Virginia his home.