Profile: Tim Fallon - Ready to play the long game

Tim Fallon may have moved on from kickabouts with Labour's elite but he is determined to help College Group score globally, reports Alec Mattinson.

Tim Fallon: managing partner, College Group (photo by Alex Deverhill)
Tim Fallon: managing partner, College Group (photo by Alex Deverhill)

Tim Fallon's footballing dreams may not quite have panned out, but one particular team he played for in the early 1990s had a profound effect on his career.

Fresh into the Westminster village, the sports psychology graduate found himself at the heart of the New Labour project and teaming up for Friday night kickabouts with some notable peers.

But while former teammates including Ed and David Miliband, Andy Burnham and James Purnell went on to fight for the leadership of the country, Fallon, 42, has left the political world behind and faces no small challenge of his own.

A longtime servant of Hill & Knowlton, now H+K Strategies, he joined College Group in May as managing partner and corporate chief, with a brief to use the agency's private equity cash to grow the business into a global powerhouse.

'It's important not to underestimate the ambition here to grow this into a truly international agency,' he says. 'Perhaps in the past the business has been seen as slightly staid, safe and secure, but we now want to be innovative and groundbreaking.'

A year ago College Group sold a majority stake to Vitruvian Partners in a deal valuing the business at around £45m. The task now, Fallon says, is for the agency's leadership team to use that cash to build a £120m-plus business over the next few years.

College Group has already secured City PR firm Merlin and other discussions have been held, but Fallon is insistent they are under no pressure to rush into acquisitions. While he acknowledges the agency's need for global expansion, he also points to the group's existing government relations, branding, digital, internal comms and research businesses.

'We already have a broader offering than I've seen anywhere else in London - half the battle is showcasing that to the outside world and bringing those elements together properly.'

The engaging Mancunian is warm and informal; nonetheless there is a steely determination and drive around him that suggests he is relishing the challenge: 'I've got the opportunity to shape something brand new - that drives me quite hard.'

But for all his focused energy, Fallon rather fell into the industry that became something of a family business.

His brother John, the recently named CEO of FTSE 100 firm Pearson, was involved in Labour politics and Fallon Jnr.

followed him to Westminster after leaving university without a clear plan.

'There weren't many other options - it was either head to Westminster or carry on my summer job scaffolding in Manchester,' he explains. 'But being at a young age in Westminster while Labour was transforming as a party got me hooked.'

He worked - and played - with the bright young things of the party until 1995 and came back to work in Tony Blair's inner comms circle as Labour swept to victory in 1997. 'Working with the Blair team was one of the best things that ever happened to me,' he says.

But while his contemporaries plotted political careers, aspects of the political game left him cold. 'I was much more interested in the process of comms, influence and engagement than policy. But also politics at times can be a bit grubby, especially when the stakes are high.'

Fallon embarked on a career in public affairs, first at BAA under the tutelage of Des Wilson, then Bell Pottinger and Sainsbury's before shifting to corporate work at Hill & Knowlton.

Andy Pharoah, now senior vice-president, corporate affairs and sustainability at Wrigley, hired Fallon at Hill & Knowlton and remembers him as someone 'always easy to get on with', adding: 'He was excellent with clients and able to calmly give advice even when it wasn't popular.'

His former ties to the Blair regime meant his career continued to be followed by the media - turning his departure from BAA and work with the Maldives government into national stories.

'Sometimes you've got to take it on the chin,' Fallon shrugs. But he stresses he remains 'very comfortable' with the work he did with the former Maldives regime - arguing that the agency's work was instrumental in advancing human rights, press freedoms and the country's first democratic elections.

Married with two daughters, his family clearly comes first. But his passion for building College Group is almost matched by his ardent support of Manchester City. Somewhat unused to the club's new-found successes, he wryly predicts 'it will probably all come crashing down again'.

Fortunately, he has no such worries with the ambitious College Group project.

2012: Managing partner, College Group
2010: Head of corporate and international affairs, Hill & Knowlton
2003: Managing director, Hill & Knowlton
2001: Head of group public affairs, Sainsbury's
1998: Director, Bell Pottinger
1995: Head of group public affairs, BAA
1992: Researcher/special adviser, Labour Party


- What was your biggest career break?

Being a part of Tony Blair's private office during the 1997 general election. It was a watershed campaign, and working on a daily basis with Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and Philip Gould gave me tremendous insight into new communication techniques and strategies that were ground-breaking at the time.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

Des Wilson, the renowned political activist and campaigner, who became my boss at BAA. The energy and passion he had for what he did inspired me, as did his loyalty and his vision.

- What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?

Be true to yourself, learn from any mistakes that you make, and always make sure you understand the context within which you're working - never let go of the bigger picture.

- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

An overall awareness of the new and evolving comms environment, a passion for what they do, and the ability to listen.

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