David Parkin feels normal with extraordinary people

IF this is normality, I want more of it.

Last week I organised and hosted a first “live” event for well over 18 months.

When I spoke to Richard Bright, the managing partner of Leeds accountancy and business advisory firm back in April he was keen to bring some inspiring and engaging speakers together as the firm welcomed its team back to the office.

The planned date for the event of June 30 had to be postponed after lockdown rules due to end earlier that month were extended to July 19.

We rearranged the event for after the summer and so September 30 became my own personal “freedom day” – the chance to suggest and book speakers for an “in-person” event and then to introduce them and host question and answer sessions.

And do you know what?

It was even better than I could have hoped.

Many professional services firms might tell you they are “different” but in reality, they rarely are.

Richard and his fellow partners have created something different at Murray Harcourt.

They freely admit they will never be the biggest, but they strive to be the best.

They eschew time sheets and many other metrics and devote their time to working hard to satisfy their clients, which are entrepreneurial, fast-growing businesses.

When I opened the event last Thursday afternoon I told the audience that my background as a journalist and hosting events had one big thing in common.

As a journalist I tell peoples’ stories and at events it is about hearing from speakers with great stories and also encouraging the audience to help tell their own stories.

We all have one to tell, whoever we are, whatever we have achieved.

Thanks to Richard’s ambition, at last week’s event we brought together four people who have plenty of amazing stories between them.

But despite their success they have all had to overcome big hurdles in their lives and often, that side of their story can be as fascinating and inspirational as the massive successes they have achieved in sport and business.

Hannah Cockcroft made her Paralympic debut in the London 2012 games where she won gold in the 100m and 200m, set two new Paralympic records and became known as “Hurricane Hannah”.

Born in Halifax, she has won seven Paralympic gold medals to date, and holds the world records for the 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres, 800 metres and 1500 metres, along with Paralympic records for 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres and 800 metres.

It is knackering just saying that, never mind doing it.

Fresh from winning her latest two gold medals at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Hannah is now the most decorated British athlete in World Championship history with 12 World Champion titles to her name.

I told the audience her record speeds are fast, really fast…and if you want to know how fast, faster even than Colin Glass on his way to a networking event.

Not only has she done all that, Hannah has appeared on The Great British Bake Off, presented a six-part series for the BBC’s Countryfile, and in 2014 she starred and won the Sport Relief edition of Strictly Come Dancing.

In 2016 Hannah was made a Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire and was the youngest person to hold the title by over 30 years.

Two days before the Murray Harcourt event she had been at the James Bond film premiere at the Royal Albert Hall.

Despite all her achievements, Hannah’s down-to-earth Yorkshire personality helps her rapidly engage with the audience, particularly when she said one of the highlights of her career was getting discounts at the Westfield shopping centre after the London 2012 Olympic Games.

From one sporting legend to another.

Jason Robinson reached the summit in both rugby league and rugby union.

He  played in three world cup finals, scoring England’s only try to help secure the 2003 Rugby Union World Cup in Sydney, Australia.

Jason’s trademark side step, devastating acceleration and ability to beat defenders, makes him one of the true greats of both codes.

He was awarded the MBE for his role in the 2003 World Cup and the OBE for services to Rugby in 2008.

Born in Leeds, Jason’s rugby league career started at Wigan in 1992, although those with a longer memory remember his formative years with the Hunslet Hawks.

His numbers in rugby league are mind boggling – 281 games, scoring 171 tries.

At Wigan he won a Super League title, four Championships, three Challenge Cups, three Regal Trophy wins, for Premiership titles and an away win against Brisbane Broncos to win the World Club championship in 1994.

Then he switched codes, joined Sale Sharks where he was to have an immediate impact on rugby union, going on to play 159 games scoring 248 points.

Despite those glittering achievements, in his presentation, after a montage of highlights from his career, Jason brings up an image of a boarded up back-to-back house in a street in Beeston, the inner city area of Leeds where he grew up.

His recollections of a challenging childhood are vivid and very stark, but clearly helped shape the man he became.

As well as now working with some of the world’s largest companies such as HSBC and Land Rover, Jason is a non-executive director at Sale Sharks.

What staggered me is that he said he is one of only two black non-executive directors in British sport.

It just shows how far we have to go when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

The last time I saw Gail Emms, she was being applauded off stage after winning the Lord’s Taverners Yorkshire Balloon Debate.

I host and help organise that event and Gail had generously offered to take part.

With a big, bright personality, self-effacing humour and boundless enthusiasm, she left former footballers Danny Mills and Mark Lawrenson standing as the audience voted her through to the final against author Scott Allen.

Her stories about her Mum playing and scoring for England in front of 90,000 people in Mexico in the first ever Women’s World Cup captivated the audience.

Particularly when she said her Mum Jan lost her job by going to the tournament and was then banned from playing for two years by the Football Association who didn’t approve of the women’s tournament.

At Murray Harcourt Gail was able to talk about her own career a bit more.

She is a former world champion and won a silver medal at the Athens Olympic Games.

She started playing badminton at the age of four and went on to reach the top of the world rankings and win gold, silver and bronze medals.

Inspired by her family’s love of sport, Gail was always destined for a glittering career.

Now retired from professional competition, she passionately shares her toughts on the hugely positive impact that sport can have on life and well-being.

When Tim Hyde stood up in front of the audience he told them: “I’m the only person speaking here today without an MBE!”

He, of course, wasn’t including the event compere.

Given he is only 26, Tim has achieved a great deal in career and I wouldn’t bet against him gaining plenty of honours in the future.

I’ve worked with Tim several times and he is one of the UK’s leading social media gurus, with extensive experience in making global brands ‘go viral’ via engaging social media campaigns and brand acquisition strategies.

His journey started at just 18, where he was recruited by Lad Bible as its 11th staff member to manage all social media activity.

Within 10 months, Tim successfully grew the brand’s Facebook page from 1.8 million Likes to 10 million Likes.

From here, Tim became head of campaigns at renowned social media agency, Social Chain, where he was responsible for devising innovative, creative and engaging social media campaigns for some of the globe’s most reputable brands including Apple, Amazon, UFC, BBC, Universal, McDonalds and Spotify.

During his first year at Social Chain, the agency scaled from 11 to 80 staff members, where Tim played a pivotal role in pioneering the top nine most engaged live streams by a brand ever.

He launched his own social media marketing agency, TWH Media, in 2017 and it has become a multi-million-pound turnover business, where Tim continues to work with a number of exciting businesses and brands globally, ranging from Adidas to Apple Music.

In the last 12 months alone, he has spent over £16 million on Facebook and Instagram advertising on behalf of his clients and generated in excess of one billion views of organic content.

Tim’s natural flare for social media and unique capability to generate viral campaigns time and time again, regardless of brand size or industry sector, has earned him an established and authoritative profile as one of the UK’s leading social media marketers, culminating in invitations to speak in front of and educate global brands such as ASICS, Eurosport, Apple Music, Sky and Unicef and WeWork.

It was a diverse group of speakers and the engagement with the audience was brilliant.

The Murray Harcourt team were youthful, energetic and enthusiastic.

After the event there drinks and pizza was served and the speakers stayed on to chat and pose for photos with members of the firm.

I helped host a quiz created and organised by Katie Allcock, an audit trainee with Murray Harcourt and the firm’s recently appointed “social secretary”.

There was a buzz in the room and I enjoyed the atmosphere, which combined mutual respect with banter between colleagues who ranged from teenagers to experienced partners.

After all the restrictions on our ability to both work and socialise with others over the last 18 months, this was the perfect example of what we’ve missed and why it is so important.

  • If you would like to chat about ideas for an engaging event for your team or your clients, give me a shout.

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A NOTE from my friend Jonny Hick last week brought some sad memories but more happy ones flooding back too.

It is 10 years since corporate financier Tim Edwards died suddenly at the age of 46.

Tim was one of the co-founders of McInnes Corporate Finance and alongside Steve Roberts and Dave Irwin, it became the go-to boutique firm for deals in Leeds, Yorkshire and beyond.

It is fair to say that the three of them were all different personalities but united by their passion for their clients and their determination to drive a hard bargain on their behalf.

McInnes was acquired by Begbies Traynor and Tim later left to take up a variety of advisory roles.

I was fortunate that he agreed to provide help and support for me when I was running TheBusinessDesk.com.

The 12 months he spent with us was the most productive and most fun of all the time I spent there.

And what’s more, Tim did it for more time and less money than I ever could have hoped.

Thank goodness he liked us as we’d never have been able to afford what he was really worth.

His shrewd advice, candour, sharp wit and unwillingness to suffer pomposity and arrogance made working with Tim a pleasure.

I remember sharing a beer with him outside the Engine House next to our office at the Round Foundry Media Centre one sunny September Friday afternoon.

I asked him what I should be worrying about in our business.

He said it was in good shape and I could afford to relax a little bit.

After the one beer he left me feeling much better and headed back to his wife Gale and two daughters in Manchester and to prepare for a cycling trip with mates to the Italian Dolomites.

The following day he died while out on his bike with friends in the Peak District.

When Steve Roberts rang to tell me the news I wept.

I had closer friends, I had closer work colleagues, but it was the shock of losing someone who I had so much respect and admiration for that so upset me.

I know I wasn’t alone in this.

As Jonny Hick says, it is a “poignant anniversary of the loss of a great member of our generation of Leeds professionals.”

That anniversary has been marked every year for the last decade by Steve, Dave, Andy Miller and others at Sentio, the corporate finance firm they created after McInnes was sold.

Last week they all gathered to mark the 10th anniversary of Tim’s passing and I’m sure while there will have been poignant memories I bet there were even more laughs as they regaled each other with stories of Tim’s biting wit and dry sense of humour.

As Jonny Hick, who founded Directorbank, puts it: “What a great legacy of a lovely man and a special partnership. It reflects well on all of them and, I hope, on the spirit of doing business in Yorkshire. They were all huge supporters of mine right from the start.

“My Dad always told me that competitors are peers and everyone in an industry is part of the same family, so you should always help in times of need.”

I’ve always said that there are more good people in business than bad ones.

There is just one less good one without Tim Edwards.

:::

YOU’LL have no doubt seen the furore that erupted last week over comments by the North Yorkshire Police Fire and Crime Commissioner about the murder of Sarah Everard.

Philip Allott told the BBC that women “need to be streetwise” about police powers and that Ms Everard should “never have submitted to arrest”.

Mr Allott initially defended his comments by saying he was not blaming the victim on Twitter before he deleted the Tweet and apologised.

However, his apology didn’t stop thousands of people calling for his resignation.

Since then he has been hanging onto his role by his fingernails.

I’m never very comfortable with knee-jerk social media pile-ons but I think in this case it was justified given the thoughtless insensitivity of Philip Allott’s comments.

Perhaps he can be forgiven for not being very experienced in dealing with the media?

Not really.

Philip Allott runs a public relations company.

:::

WHAT do you call a collection of accountants?

Well if my experience at Harrogate Rugby Club last Saturday is anything to go by, then very good fun.

Andrew Mackenzie of Begbies Traynor – Hull’s answer to Roberto Mancini – sponsored a table at last week’s match versus Hull Ionians and invited along old pals from his days at one-time Leeds accountancy firm John Gordon Walton as well as friends from the legal and property world.

They must have had a spare space as I got an invite and despite it chucking it down the entire afternoon, had a thoroughly good time chatting to old friends and making some new ones.m sure Allott & Associates can confidently claim to be the biggest PR company in Knaresborough.

Whether it is the best is another matter.

I even bumped into some faces from the glory years of business in Leeds. Andrew’s former boss at John Gordon Walton is the warm, intelligent and very funny Richard Brown.

Well he reads this blog, so what else am I going to say?

Technology entrepreneur and investor Ian McNeill said hello and informed me he is also a regular reader of this blog.

He waxed lyrical about it to his table companions David Haxby the charming former managing partner of Arthur Andersen and a man I used to bump into regularly when La Grillade was open.

Across the table was another familiar face: Fergus Colvin, deputy chairman of The Ogden Group of Companies, tycoon Sir Robert Ogden’s empire.

I remember a few years ago I read that the now 86-year-old Sir Robert had married a Brazilian lady.

I gather they are still very happily married.

Although she is getting on a bit now.

She’s 48.

Have a great weekend.

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