Thankfully, in the flesh Constant is reassuringly friendly and easy to talk to. That said, the tanned 52-year-old – who has a tendency to swish his hair out of his eyes as he talks – leads a good life, and has upper-class credentials by the bucket-load.
As if boarding at The King’s School, Canterbury, training at Sandhurst, studying at Durham and serving with The Royal Green Jackets weren’t enough, Constant has an MBE. He was given the award in 1983 after ‘a reasonably long spell in Northern Ireland’. He rarely mentions it nowadays, he says, although it ‘can be useful for writing formal letters’.
One wonders to whom those letters will be written, given that Gavin Anderson (GA) has recently been hired to work for controversial oil and gas giant Gazprom. Gazprom faces a huge reputational challenge as it strives to convince shareholders that it is acting in all of their best interests, rather than the interests of the Russian government, as some critics would suggest.
Constant has, he says, ‘no ethical problems with any of our clients whatsoever’, and argues that business links between the UK and Russia can only be a good thing.
‘Although the political temperature between Russia, the US and the UK has risen over the past few months, businesses want politicians to remember that we’re not facing each other off in a Cold War era. The issues at the moment will be dealt with by compromise on both sides,’ he contends.
Constant will not comment on Gazprom, although he does talk about Russian clients in general, given that GA works for others, including pipe exporter TMK.
Like anyone else, he says, Russians ‘are keen to be portrayed fairly. If people attribute to them motivations or attributes that are just not part of their process they find it difficult to understand.
‘They pay if they like what you have delivered – they don’t like to pay if you don’t deliver. I don’t think that makes them different to any other client,’ he says.
Constant is divorced with four ‘almost grown-up’ children, and lives in an apartment on the river near Tower Bridge. He took the top job at Gavin Anderson in 2000; ‘spectacularly bad timing’, he says, just as the industry headed into recession. But today, he claims to have built the agency to ‘a stronger point than ever before in its 25-year history’. It has 280 staff, including 45 in London, ‘deliberately overweighted at the senior end’ and distributed evenly around the globe.
‘We’re not UK- or US-centric, and I can’t think of any other company that we compete with on an international scale that can say that,’ he says. Competitors agree Gavin Anderson’s international scope is its strength, but assert that its London offering is not in the same league as that of Brunswick or Finsbury.
‘There are very few networks that truly work as networks, with a one-firm firm culture,’ counters Constant. ‘That is paramount to how we operate. We don’t have the fights between offices about fees that we hear go on in other agencies,’ he maintains.
One competitor claims that Constant can be ‘difficult’ to work for. Constant himself says: ‘Team players build organisations from the inside out. I’m more suspicious of the individual stars. They come and they shine for a bit and they move on.
‘We call our practices bubbles, and we call the sector heads bubble-heads, so people don’t get too big for their boots,’ he adds. Constant is not shy about detailing the firm’s strengths (‘did you get the bit about the one-firm firm?’ he asks at the end of the interview) – but on many other more intriguing topics he will only talk off the record. This is a clever tactic, meaning that he never comes across as dishonest – and can indulge what seems to be an irresistible urge to talk about his achievements – but never takes any unwise chances.
One senior business reporter says Constant is one of the few PROs he feels he can trust: ‘He’s never lied to me and he’s exceptionally responsive – he’s called me back from the bath, and he’s come out of the cinema to take my call.’
He is similarly well-liked by his peers, according to Tulchan founder Andrew Grant: ‘He is well-known, well-respected and a very entertaining fellow,’ he says.
Constant’s exhaustive list of interests, ventures and hobbies includes a non-executive directorship at US biomass company Homeland Renewable Energy, a share in a 26,000 cattle ranch in Kenya and – being ‘a country boy at heart’ – weekends of fishing and shooting.
His grand passion, though, is Three Day Eventing, and he springs to life to show off a poster of the horse he jointly owns – Master Monarch – ridden by an Olympic gold medallist jockey.
Lessons learned from Constant’s time as a soldier are certainly still with him – he even has a human skull on his desk (‘It’s a long story but I keep it there because it reminds me that we’re all mortal’).
Constant left the army for the City because – during a stint working for the Ministry of Defence’s deputy chief of defence staff (intelligence) – he was given a glimpse into the ‘interface between the military and politics’, and didn’t like what he saw.
It seems ironic that, as a soldier, Constant’s instinct was to take politics out of the equation and get on with the job at hand. As a PR man representing clients as controversial as Gazprom, he should be so lucky.
What was your biggest career break? There have been two. The first was being given the opportunity to work for the deputy chief of defence staff at the Ministry of Defence. Being in the know at that level was heady stuff for a 28-year-old. The second was going from running Gavin Anderson in London to running the company globally.
What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder? People who get ahead have above-average zeal and energy. They go the extra mile and they start a bit earlier. They’re curious and they keep learning.
Who was your most notable mentor? If I had to choose one it would be a very unreasonable man –but then unreasonable men change the world –Sir Jimmy Glover, then deputy chief of defence staff (intelligence) at the Ministry of Defence. He was the most capable person I’ve ever worked for – he wasn’t perfect by any means but I admired him.
What characteristic do you prize in new recruits? I look for evidence of self-motivation – people with lots of initiative. Self-starters generally get ahead, while those who wait for their employer to deliver great things to them don’t. There’s an old proverb that says ‘if tomorrow doesn’t come you have to go and fetch it’. I think that’s probably the best advice.
Global CEO, Gavin Anderson
MD, Gavin Anderson
Assistant managing director, Valin Pollen
Manager, corporate finance, Robert Fleming & Co
Army officer, Royal Green Jackets