Michael Hayman - A man of vision

The co-founder of Seven Hills puts entrepreneurship at the heart of everything he does. Alec Mattinson reports.

Michael Hayman: a man of vision
Michael Hayman: a man of vision

Michael Hayman is a man in a hurry. During an early morning meeting at a hotel by St Pancras Station, it is not just his travel plans that mark him out as someone on the move.

The co-founder of Seven Hills, formed in January 2010 with ex-Text 100 MD Nick Giles, reels off rapid-fire responses to questions with a compelling energy and passion. He is so convincing about his vision for Seven Hills one suspects the global fridge industry could have missed out on its ideal Arctic-region salesman.

The 41-year-old former CEO of The Communication Group is especially upbeat on this particular morning, as he is set to catch a train to his home town of Sheffield where preparations are being finalised for the 2011 MADE Festival.

Next week's event will see 2,500 delegates descend on the Steel City for the festival dedicated to entrepreneurs. Now in its second year and doubling in size, the entire event was conceived and run by Seven Hills. Hayman describes the idea behind MADE as 'Edinburgh Festival for business', featuring Business Secretary Vince Cable and top entrepreneurs from around the world.

Entrepreneurship is a key watch-word for Hayman and the agency.

'PR companies have had a schizophrenic relationship with entrepreneurs,' Hayman says. 'They're exciting and dynamic, but they're also very demanding and agencies haven't known how to deal with them. We revel in that stress.'

With the national economic narrative dominated by the 'enterprise economy', Hayman also helped found StartUp Britain in March - a body backed by Prime Minister David Cameron to boost enterprise in the UK - and is regional chairman at Coutts & Co, with responsibility for entrepreneurs.

'A lot of the consultancy sector can be ubiquitous,' he says. 'We want to position ourselves as Britain's campaigning firm, as we think there's a real space in the market.'

The agency's evolution owes a lot to a meeting with former Dragons' Den dragon and US-born entrepreneur Doug Richard. Hayman describes that meeting as a 'eureka moment that changed everything'.

'Doug gave us a masterclass in brilliance. We had an entrepreneur who inspired us and made us want to do something for him,' he says. 'Doug took us on for four days and we have been with him ever since.'

Richard comments: 'I have the highest regard for both Michael and Nick. They don't think in terms of releases, they think in terms of campaigns that will get meaningful coverage. That's hard to do and most in the industry do a poor job of it.'

Richard is one of the speakers at MADE and it is no surprise that Sheffield was chosen as the venue. Hayman, Sheffield born and bred, also served as a non- executive director on Creative Sheffield.

He remains a Yorkshireman at heart. 'It's a massive part of my DNA and has fundamentally shaped my outlook on life,' he says. In fact, Seven Hills owes its brand identity to Hayman's home city - named after the seven hills upon which the 'Rome of the North' is built.

Giles and Hayman have known each other since the late 90s, when they worked at Abacus, and often talked of setting up on their own. Hayman says of his business partner: 'Nick and I see the world in a different way - I'm the vision man, Nick's the detail. I can point the way to Damascus, but Nick's the one who gets the road built.'

With the new business comes a change in pace of life. Now a family man with a young daughter, Hayman admits: 'Social time is now about relaxing. I'm shattered at the end of the day.' It is a far cry from his younger days, when he once bought an Aston Martin on his credit card: 'It was the most stupid thing I've ever done, but I was single and needed a bit of ammo,' he says.

Sally Costerton, chairman and CEO of Hill & Knowlton EMEA, worked with Hayman earlier in his career and remembers his 'larger than life' personality and 'gift of the gab', adding: 'Straight away, you could tell that he had the drive to succeed in reaching whatever goals he set for himself.'

Hayman is convinced the PR industry is in need of a shake-up: 'Recessions disrupt the status quo. Being a disruptive influence is deeply ingrained in our minds,' he says. 'Reputation is the primary issue keeping Britain's leaders awake at night, but the industry is underselling itself and has not exercised that value yet.'

Richard jokes that the Seven Hills pair are the 'best thing since sliced bread', while Peter Jones, another Dragons' Den dragon, effuses on video about the pair of 'entrepreneurial demigods'. With two dragons tamed, Hayman must be doing something right.

2010 Co-founder, Seven Hills
2005 Chief executive, The Communication Group
2003 Board director, Hill & Knowlton
2000 Managing director, corporate practice, The Communication Group
1998 Consultant, Abacus Public Relations


What was your biggest career break?

Doug Richard gave Nick and I our first chance after going it alone.

At that point, we had nothing - we needed somebody to give us a break to get us airborne and Doug did that.

Have you had a notable mentor?

When I first got into PR,Sally Costerton, chairman and CEO of Hill & Knowlton EMEA, took me under her wing and was always a wise owl with me. She could see how impatient I was to get going and never failed to give me good advice.

What advice would you give someone climbing the career ladder?

The best advice I ever had was from a headhunter who told me to 'start at the end and work back'. What he meant was to think about what's important and where you want to get to and then tailor everything you do towards that goal.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Grit. It is a really underestimated and undervalued talent in life. The humility that goes with it is what makes some of the quality in people you have worked with. God loves a trier.

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