Stephen Lock is not the man he used to be.
Serious illness and a spell on gardening leave mean this reformed workaholic has only spent an estimated 12 weeks at work this year.
In April, after suffering glandular fever, he was diagnosed with hepatitis.
As a result of the illness Lock lost two stone, which he is proud to say he hasn't put back on. With a rather black sense of humour he recommends the 'H plan diet'.
Plans to launch Cicero - the new agency he has co-founded with fellow ex-Ludgate men Richard Elsen, Sunil Sharma and Iain Anderson - were almost abandoned as a result of Lock's illness. After his recovery in June he and his partners resigned from Ludgate after a failed MBO.
Reflecting on his relatively inactive year, Lock believes a lot of good has come from the experience. 'I have changed a lot. At Ludgate I was married to the job and couldn't let go. I am now more centred and have relaxed a lot. When I shed the pounds I shed the stress,' he says.
Lock, 31, first became attracted to PR while at Cambridge. He recalls an Independent on Sunday feature on 'princes of PR' and the growing up of the industry. 'I was hooked, and have wanted to be one of the industry's 'princelings' ever since. I still do!'
Yet PR was not Lock's first choice. His Oxbridge background led him to join investment bank Lazard Brothers, but he found he was not suited to that lifestyle.
He then worked for Richard Pollen, ex-Valin Pollen, who was managing financial PR from a converted stable at his Surrey home. 'I was allergic to and terrified of the horses,' he says.
This arrangement only lasted eight months as Lock struggled with his commute from London. In that time, although Pollen paid for Lock to have 30 driving lessons, he still failed his test after a series of mishaps, including driving Pollen's BMW into a pond.
After approaching a recruitment agency, Lock went to work for Ludgate.
In 18 months at the agency he rose steadily through the ranks until he was working directly with chairman Tim Trotter.
By late 1996 the relationship between Ludgate and its PA arm Ludgate Laud had 'broken down'. MD Derek Laud left the company with clients and staff and Lock was encouraged to take over what was left behind.
'It took five minutes to decide it was a disaster and so should be shut down, and another five months to get new staff and clients,' says Lock.
Robin Hepburn, Ludgate CEO, describes Lock as a very bright guy: 'When Laud left, not a lot survived. Stephen sunk his teeth into what remained and proceeded effectively to build a consultancy that enabled him to develop his own areas of interest.'
Left by management to plot his own course, Lock quickly established Ludgate Public Affairs as a successful business and one which better suited his skills and personality. 'I find financial PR really boring. There are some people in the area that I admire but with the majority I think it is an astonishing way of making money,' he says.
More to Lock's liking was litigation PR, particularly as he had studied law at university: 'We were adopting a model which suited the times. It was a very American approach. Litigation was high profile and you had to move quickly.'
'He is extremely bright - intellectually and personality wise,' says Andrew Sharkey, an ex-boss at Ludgate. 'He is a hard worker and was known as someone who could deliver.' However, Sharkey admits Lock was not always the most popular employee: 'Some people were afraid of his intellect.'
By summer 1999, Lock was unhappy at Ludgate. He describes the business, which has since been merged with Golin Harris, as doing 'a passable impression of the Titanic'. At this stage he started to make plans for leaving.
Cicero is a 'clean slate' for the four partners who are currently approaching investors to fund the business - Lock claims it will be oversubscribed.
He takes comfort from his experience launching Ludgate PA four years ago.
Sharkey makes the point, which Lock is quick to agree with, that for Cicero to succeed it will be a team effort. 'With his partners there is potentially a very good business. Stephen and Iain are not traditional businessmen and will focus on the client handling while Sunil will keep a firm hand on expenditure. He will relay confidence to the investors.'
'Stephen has to be careful of burnout. He must be careful or he may find by 40 that he is very tired,' says one ex-colleague. Perhaps the disruptions of this last year have given Lock the experience to avoid these pitfalls.
He talks of having a better grip on his life and believes he will be able to avoid being over-frenetic about work.
'While I still expect Cicero to be hard work to launch, I plan to work more smartly than was the case with what seemed like the futility of managing at Ludgate.'
If he succeeds, Cicero should be a success in more ways than one for the new-look Lock.
1990: graduate recruit, Lazard Brothers
1993: senior consultant, Richard Pollen and Company
1996: managing director, Ludgate PA
2000: CEO, Cicero Consulting.