This year has been one of the most tumultuous ever for me. It has had its highs and its lows. It has seen me make momentous decisions that have changed my life for the better.
The year started with several discussions with companies that were interested in acquiring or investing in Wolfstar. For a variety of reasons – some on their side, some on ours – none of these actually came to anything in the end. But what these discussions did do was make me start thinking far more about the future.
Since starting Wolfstar in June 2007 it had been a bit like a roller coaster ride. It was always going to be a challenge starting a new business in what soon turned out to be one of the most turbulent and pessimistic economic periods this century.
Despite this in less than four years we succeeded in growing Wolfstar into a PRWeek Top 150 Consultancy, a Top 40 Digital Consultancy (top of the table of specialist consultancies for the percentage of income derived from online PR) and Top 40 Technology Consultancy (the largest outside London).
We pitched for and won some fantastic clients including Sony Ericsson, First Direct, HSBC Unilever, PayPal, Discovery Channel, Philips, Carlsberg, GlaxoSmithKline, Smith & Nephew and the NHS.
We worked with the United Nations to produce the world’s first international research report into how FT Global 500 companies use social media to support their CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategies.
For a small PR consultancy headquartered outside London to provide international public relations counsel to such prestigious clients was quite an achievement. Especially considering that to win most of them we pitched against big, global PR agencies.
But then in March tragedy struck. Mark Hanson, my very good friend and the deputy managing director of Wolfstar, took his own life. It was a traumatic experience â€“ for his family, his incredibly wide network of friends, his colleagues at Wolfstar and for me personally.
Life would, could, never be the same again. Hard as it was life had to go on.
Inevitably this also had a negative effect on the business. Mark was an exceptional individual who it would be impossible to replace.
It also made me start questioning what I really wanted out of life. The start of Wolfstar had coincided with the birth of my daughter Esme and for me there is nothing more important than family.
Although family is my first priority, work is inevitably important. Simply to keep a roof over your head and food in the cupboard it is where you will spend much of your time. But the most important thing for me about work is actually enjoying what I do and feeling like I’m contributing and achieving. One of the issues with starting a business is that the day to day realities of growing it and running it prevent you from doing many of the things that made it possible for you to be successful in the first place.
I feel pity for those whose happiness appears to be wrapped up in wealth and material things. Family and job satisfaction will always be far more important to me than a big house, a fast car, the villa in the sun or that holiday resort that is frequented by those who have lost touch with reality.
In May my heart was filled with joy and pride as my wife Karen defeated a Liberal Democrat councillor to become the first Labour councillor elected in Rothwell in the 21st century. She’s got off to a cracking start and I’m looking forward to her being joined by a second Labour councillor in May next year.
By June, after numerous discussions with my business partner, I finally took the decision to relinquish my 50% stake in Wolfstar to him so that I could focus on my family and actually doing work that I enjoy. The deal was finally complete in August.
Since then I’ve been able to enjoy my daughter’s first term at school, contribute chapters to a forthcoming book, increase my level of political activity for the Labour Party, start some new strategic communications consultancy and online PR training work, resume writing this PR blog more frequently and meet some fantastic people to discuss opportunities for 2012 and beyond.
That is why as we enter 2012 I am far happier that I’ve ‘gone plural’ and decided to pursue a portfolio career. That will be the subject of a second blog post, early in the New Year.
Seasons greetings and all the best for 2012 to all my readers, with apologies for this rather personal ramble. A normal service of posts about international public relations, corporate communications, public affairs and social media will be resumed soon.