Secrets of my Success: Chris Hirst, European and UK group CEO of Havas
Chris Hirst, the European and UK group chief executive of Havas, shares the secrets of his success and talks about his love of creativity in the advertising industry.
Q> What do you do?
CH> I run the seven UK businesses and the European arm of ad agency Havas, which has a huge business in France, where it is headquartered.
As such I travel every couple of weeks and spend most of my time trying to shape the culture in the 30 offices we have around Europe. We’re not a factory, we don’t make anything tangible, so culture and talent are the most important elements. My role centres on removing the obstacles to creativity and combining that with hard-nosed money-making.
Q> What do you enjoy about it?
CH> I love the creativity of the industry. It’s very exciting to create a campaign which has that x-factor. I also love implementing change — finding the right people and gelling them together. We’re also moving into Google’s development in King’s Cross in the new year, which I can’t bloody wait for.
Q> And what don’t you enjoy?
I have to sit through a lot of finance meetings and, as I have a very short attention span, this can be tough. Also, as much as I love pitching for work, and it’s the best feeling when you win one, I hate losing a pitch. It’s horrible.
Q> What impact has Brexit had on you?
I’ve had a few meetings about the implications, but as long as the economy is healthy, advertising tends to be too. We’re like the canary in the mine. I feel passionately about immigration — if you’re a 20-year-old from Nottingham, how are you going to create a campaign to appeal to people in Sao Paulo or China? We need that international melting pot of talent.
Q> What was your biggest setback and break?
They’re one and the same, really. I’d fallen into advertising — I grew up in Northumberland, did a very tough apprenticeship in a glassworks in St Helens, and studied engineering at Oxford. I think I subconsciously wanted to get away from engineering.
At just 32, I was handed the role of managing director of Grey London. It was an underperforming, safe but dull agency, and as hard as we tried, we couldn’t get it into growth for the first six years. I used to look around the boardroom at a talented team, who’ve all gone on to greater things, and think, ‘Why is this not working?’ After six years I finally built a team with that coherence, and we created great campaigns for the likes of McVitie’s, HSBC and Vodafone.
Q> How do you manage your work-life balance?
I live in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, which is uncommutable, and I live in London during the week, so I do miss my family. The phone reception in Suffolk is patchy, and I’ve become a lot more regimented about splitting my time, so the weekends are spent taking my two sons to football, arguing with them over homework and, when I get chance, reading the paper with a coffee.
The mountain of work never gets smaller, so I try and identify what will make the most difference for the company and me, and just prioritise that. To de-stress, I love exercising, particularly tennis.
Q> Any tips?
Energy equals power. People who bring energy into a room or a project are worth their weight in gold. Work is as much about the dynamic as it is about the intellectual capacity of those involved. Too many people get hung up on being the cleverest. People want to work with those who lift them, so if you can be that person, it’s a great edge.