PROFILE: Alan Donnelly, Sovereign Strategy

Political experience serves Donnelly well - The former MEP gets excitement from his plans for Sovereign Strategy.

Alan Donnelly is mildly bemused. The former leader of the Labour group in the European Parliament seems unaware that his decision to sign up Labour heavyweight Jack Cunningham has caused controversy in the world of public affairs.

He believes Cunningham's new non-executive role is as uncontentious as those of ex-Coca-Cola chief Walter Brinkmann and former Newcastle United boss Freddie Fletcher. 'The relationship is very clear - he's there to advise us as an organisation,' he says.

Donnelly claims that Sovereign Strategy is not a 'bog standard' lobby company: 'The firm is not about persuading regulators and legislators to change specific lines in legislation, but ensuring clients' businesses and operations are well understood so any potential problems are avoided before the process starts.

'What we want to do is work with businesses that want to build a sound relationship with regulators,' he says. 'We want to make sure that we are able to have our input so that when these things are formulated, the people who are drafting understand our concerns.'

It's nearly three years since he quit the European Parliament in 2000, after becoming tired with the monthly busman's holiday to Strasbourg.

The realisation that moving into the private sector would be a good deal harder if he saw out his term and waited until the next election, when he'd be 47, also played its part.

He says elements of the Labour Party were 'horrified' by his decision.

'I've never been one of those people who believes in elected positions as a job for life,' he says. 'I think probably political parties should exhibit a greater discipline over term limitations.'

Since quitting front line politics, Donnelly's focus has been on developing Sovereign Strategy. Its positioning is a reaction to what the former MEP describes as 'some of the best and worst of public affairs companies' that he came into contact with while in Brussels. Inexperienced, badly briefed and usually arriving on the scene at 'the ten minutes to midnight stage', is how he describes the worst examples.

What started off with a single contract to work on a review of the challenges facing the Co-operative movement, has turned into a company with revenues of £1m and ambitious expansion plans. In addition to a presence in Newcastle, London and Brussels, talks are underway with a view to establishing strategic alliances with similar operations in France and Germany.

The company's client list includes motor sport's governing body, the FIA, broadcaster Bloomberg and the Co-operative Commission. There are also plans to build up the Brussels office's financial sector PA offer in advance of EU plans to liberalise the financial markets across the continent. 'The definition of success in terms of this business is to make sure that we have steady growth, but that as we implement that steady growth we don't compromise the quality,' he says.

Relations with the FIA and the Formula One crowd are clearly close. They are ideal clients for a self-confessed 'petrolhead', and Donnelly has recently become FIA president Max Mosley's representative to Formula 1.

Mosley says Donnelly's background in the 'rough and tumble' of north-east politics makes him a safe pair of hands, always willing to offer forthright advice. And Mosley says he's worked hard to ensure the relationship with one of his earliest clients hasn't been allowed to drop off.

'Although Sovereign has expanded its client base over the years that they have worked with the FIA, Alan Donnelly is rigorous in maintaining personal contact with me,' Mosley says.

While steady growth may be the target for Sovereign, Donnelly also observed the impact of the unsustainable growth of the dotcom boom. An investment of around £1,200 in Just 2 Clicks turned into a reported figure of £3m, although he says this figure is 'way off'. 'The important lesson is that in terms of business you have to recognise there are few businesses in the world where you are going to make big profits in a couple of months,' he says.

Donnelly is clearly well connected. He's an honorary German knight - thanks to his work on reunification while at the European Parliament - and his time as part of the Labour hierarchy can only have helped his contact book. Donnelly says he remains a keen politics watcher, with a particular interest in plans for English devolution. The press cuttings have the north-east native down as a potential candidate for mayor of Newcastle, but Donnelly says the business is providing all the kicks he needs for now.


1987: National finance officer, GMB

1989: MEP, Tyne and Wear

1997: Leader, European Parliamentary Party

2000: Chief executive, Sovereign Strategy

2001: Executive chairman, Sovereign Strategy

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