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
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
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
Managing director, Graham Kemp Associates
Founder, Paragon Communications
Non-executive director, Charles Barker
Consultant to Kingfisher
Corporate affairs director, Kingfisher