Scots by birth I was born in Edinburgh in 1963 the son of a gardener and a cleaning lady. Brought up in Hexham in Northumberland. We were a quiet family who kept very much ourselves to ourselves partly as we had little money being on agricultural farm wages and living in a tied cottage. In many ways my childhood was idyllic with acres of fields to roam over but I just wanted to get the hell out of there and do something with my life. My parents and I had a joke we’d tell of they got the wrong baby and I got the wrong parents in a mix up at the hospital! I tell the story of my first suit being a cast off rescued from the rubbish bins outside the backdoor of the big house my mum cleaned at and my dad worked as a gardener at. It’s true my mum washed and darned it. That’s the first and last handmade Saville Row suit I ever owned!
By some weird twist of mind, I discovered politics when I was about 16 and became passionately interested in everything I could find. I toyed with joining the Labour Party but was put off by the racist bigotry common in the Trade Union and Labour party in the 1970’s. I watched the 1978 Liberal Party Assumedly on TV and was hooked. I wrote to the local party and soon joined. By sheer chance I met the future Chairperson of the National League of Yong liberals and was catapulted from sleepy Hexham to the Neuronal Executive of the Young Liberals ay the tender age of 17.
Politics got in the way of school and university. I basically never went to university although was hoping to go to the London School of Economics (LSE). Ironically I spent almost a year living on the floor of a friends set at Kings College Cambridge to the extent I went to lectures and ate in the Common Room. Later I went on to work a lot with the LSE on its brand. I don’t recommend no University but I can’t say I missed out really.
I then spent most of my twenties working for the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats. I was privileged to sit at the table at the national level during a lot of events from the Falkland’s War to the founding of the SDP, to the heady days of the Liberal SDP Alliance on to the merge with the SDIP. I’ve on and off helped out the party over the years but in 1989 being poor and in my late twenties I went into PR ending up joining Burson-Marsteller(BM) then the world’s largest PR company to run at first the Middle East, then Brussels followed by London and jointly Europe for the firm over a twelve-year career. I ended up on the global board and as Global Chairman of the Corporate of Financial Practice.
I loved my time at BM. It was probably the best years of my life and I worked with some fabulous people on some amazing things. I adored the Middle East marrying out there for the first time. This was at a time pre ISIS and pre-Arab spring when the region was relatively stable and went through enormous change. A lot of our work with US funded for example running privatisation programmes in Egypt, working for the Mubarak government when he was a ‘friend of the west’ and helping Abu Dhabi in the early days.
I came back to Europe and ran Brussels again which I loved. Brussels is actually a great city to live in and if you are at all political is an amazing melting pot. I spent many years based there running both the Brussels office and Public Affairs in Europe spending 5 days a week on planes criss-crossing Europe working in almost every capital city.
In 2000 I picked up what I have always seen as one of the two plumb jobs of any PR or ad agency and that was running the London office. There’s really only London and New York to run if you are to run anything. When I did we had almost 250 people and revenues of over $20m.
In 2005 I left the safety of big agency life and set out to build my own agency network creating with a bunch of old BM mates All About Brands plc (AAB) which over seven years opened offices in London and Abu Dhabi as well as acquired businesses in Kiev, Moscow, Istanbul and eight offices in India. We were hugely successful and worked on all sorts of projects from the branding of Abu Dhabi to working with Google and oil giant Hillwood Energy.
Life was hectic but good until we hit the Arab Spring in 2011. Our aim was to build and IPO the company. I owned 11% and my wife a further 11%. The endless grind of the global recession over most of the time we were building the company hit us hard. I stood down as CEO but continued as Chairman. Our bank pulled over funding lines and we struggled on for a year before losing almost half our business when our major Middle East client changed staff and so agency. The rest is history.
I joined Jericho Chambers in 2014 as a place to ply my trade. Jericho is a left of centre communications and change agent. It has some of the smartest people in town and I was proud to be part of it. I also in 2014 hot involved in Electric Jukebox an innovative music streaming appliance manufacturer. More of them soon. As I write I am still involved with various projects all of which I am sure I will be writing about. I’m now an investor in Guildford Street Capital Limited and in Whetstone Capital Group plc where I am also an investment committee member.
If you ask what I do I guess I bring an ability to think big ideas, put them on paper, create a strategy and build organisations to deliver them. I love to take someone’s vision and make it real. The people I have worked with are very often smarter than me but I have realised having the ability to take a pile of ideas and make them real is a great gift as well as the ability to convince a room of people to follow me. I am also a Christian and am in the process of establishing ManKind a charity aimed at helping men who run into the buffers in mid life.