Allan Leighton – “always remember the think” MBS 30/5/12

5 Jun
Allan Leighton at MBS, pic by James Maddox

Allan Leighton at MBS, pic by James Maddox

I’ve always wanted to meet Allan Leighton and after moderating a lively Q&A for him at the end of the final Vital Topics lecture of the 2012 series, I wasn’t disappointed. He is a charismatic and fiercely bright leader, but he’s also full of common sense and plain speaking.

We had a good chat before the lecture about a few things that were of interest that I sensed he wouldn’t touch on his speech – his politics, his relationship with Rupert Murdoch (he’s been a director of BSkyB) and what may be off limits. In shot, he was cool about all of that.

His excellent talk spanned some key points in his career, but also drew on many of themes in his excellent book Tough Calls. I’ll add a link to the video interview he did beforehand with my friend Jim Pendrill.

He started by questioning the brand name behind him – Great Minds Think Alike – something we’d talked about earlier – I’d already Googled the full quote – but fools seldom differ, which puts a new spin on it. The conversation also came about as I’d asked him if he liked my new brand – Think More – which he said he did.

Part of his lecture style was to engage and interact as he went. So when it came to the Q&A he had built up an empathy with the audience. The questions came thick and fast and the challenge was not to fill the time, but to manage it with different types of questions from a wider range than the nosey journalists at the front (me included).

I asked him what it was like working with Rupert Murdoch. He told a fantastic story about getting the call from Murdoch and asking for a meeting in London the next day. As the boss of Asda he was actually due to be at a store in Hull. Murdoch flew to Hull to meet him there, showing Allan how wanted he was. Murdoch also caused all kinds of panic for the team back at Wapping when he found out the store ran out of copies of The Sun.

It’s these anecdotes and stories that you have to tease out sometimes. It proved the benefit of arriving early and spending time talking. As I liked him I also plugged his book and am delighted to hear that it sold out. He signed my copy – “always remember the think”.

These lectures have been a delight. And it was a real touch of class by Professor Michael Luger, dean of the school, to thank his events manager Helen Power so profusely afterwards. These events don’t happen by accident and she’s played an important (and often unseen) role in creating a unique sense of purpose around them.

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