Profile: Mike Hingston, Kingfisher - A blue blood PR aristocrat/Mike Hingston joins Kingfisher with a longer pedigree than most UK PR players

Everyone who knows him will tell you that Mike Hingston was one of the stars of 1980s PR. He founded Paragon Communications in 1981 and was the early driving force behind the agency which by 1989 had a fee income of pounds 6.9 million.

Everyone who knows him will tell you that Mike Hingston was one of

the stars of 1980s PR. He founded Paragon Communications in 1981 and was

the early driving force behind the agency which by 1989 had a fee income

of pounds 6.9 million.



At the end of 1987 Hingston took Paragon public, just weeks after the

Black Monday stock market collapse. Then in April 1990 Shandwick

acquired Paragon for pounds 9.3 million. By the end of that year

Hingston had gone - to be replaced as CEO by agency co-founder Julia

Thorn - retiring in his early-40s to spend time at his home in France

and sailing his 44-foot yacht around the world.



But now he is back in a prominent communications role, as corporate

affairs director at Kingfisher, the retail group that owns Woolworths,

B&Q, Superdrug and Comet.



For an entrepreneurial figure to take such a job is not as surprising as

it may first appear. Hingston is a long-standing and trusted adviser to

Kingfisher group chief executive Sir Geoff Mulcahy, having counselled

him on the late-1980s bid for rival retail business Dixons, and several

years earlier when the boot was on the other foot and Dixons had been

the prospective acquisitor.



Hingston also acted as a consultant to Kingfisher , giving advice, for

example, on a replacement for departing corporate affairs director Nigel

Whittaker in 1995. The impending retirement of Whittaker’s successor,

John Eyre, opened the way for Hingston to come on board full-time. But

unlike Eyre, Hingston will have a seat on the group’s powerful executive

committee.



In 1995 Hingston also worked as a non-executive director at Charles

Barker, where he advised the agency on its business development. It is

thought he was instrumental in luring Dick Lumsden from Paragon, where

he had been running the publishing division, to set up a similar

operation at Charles Barker. ’Mike exudes confidence and he gives that

to other people,’ says Lumsden.



After beginning working life in the merchant navy, Hingston switched to

local newspaper journalism, specialising in industrial affairs. Then, in

the late 1970s, he moved into corporate publishing. Hingston is known

for his strong views and clarity of business vision. Bearing this in

mind, it seemed inevitable that he should fall out with the eponymous

chairman of publishing and PR company Graham Kemp Associates after a

disagreement on future direction.



Hingston took the view that the greater potential lay with the PR side

of the business. It was a testament to his charisma and conviction that

many of the leading players at GKA joined him in setting up Paragon. One

of those was Paragon founder director John Collard, today managing

director of sports PR specialist Collard Grosvenor International. ’He’s

a very hard taskmaster,’ says Collard of Hingston. ’He’s someone I’m

very glad I don’t have as a client because he’s Mister Perfection.’



Collard recalls the early years at Paragon as the sweatshop days, when

everyone was working seven days a week and everything ’was geared

towards flotation’.



Hingston, of course, achieved that aim. However, following the purchase

by Shandwick he clearly became disillusioned at no longer running his

own show. ’Stifled’, as Lumsden puts it.



Two years ago an interesting rumour did the rounds in the City. With

Shandwick’s share price languishing, it was suggested that investor the

UK Active Value Fund was seeking to bring in Hingston as a replacement

for Shandwick supremo Peter Gummer.



Whether true or not it makes for a good tale. And its plausibility

reflects Hingston’s stature as PR professional.



His communication skills are not in doubt. The only question as yet

unanswered is whether he will be any more comfortable in a role where he

is not calling all the shots than he was during his short time with

Shandwick.



HIGHLIGHTS

1979

Managing director, Graham Kemp Associates

1981

Founder, Paragon Communications

1995

Non-executive director, Charles Barker

1995

Consultant to Kingfisher

1999

Corporate affairs director, Kingfisher



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