The SMART Interview #29 Michael Hayman
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The SMART Interview #29 Michael Hayman

  • 12 Oct 2015

Michael Hayman MBE is one of the UK’s foremost campaigners for enterprise. He co-founded Seven Hills one of the UK's fastest growing PR firms and is a government advisor on entrepreneurship. He is co-author of the bestselling Mission: How the Best in Business Break Through’. So what are his tips for business success?

At Heathrow Express we like to celebrate doing things that bit smarter. Each month we seek out someone who really exemplifies this approach to work and life and ask them some questions. This month: Michael Hayman   

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You're an expert on entrepreneurs: you work with them and you are one yourself. Do you think people are born entrepreneurial or is it something you can learn?

My father and grandfather were both entrepreneurs so it was around me as I grew up but my dad was insistent that I have a ‘proper’ job – the reputation of being ‘self made’ was quite different 30 years ago! However I gradually came to realise entrepreneurship was in the blood! That said, I think you can learn to be great at business if you've tenacious attitude and a real desire for self-improvement. 

What’s the best way to learn?

Mentoring is hugely important. Having someone you can trust, who is capable of providing advice is extremely valuable – I was lucky enough to have Lord Young of Graffam as my mentor. He’s a serial entrepreneur and former Cabinet minister. It also helps if you’re a voracious reader: I love Seth Godin’s daily blog and I find Harvard Business Review’s app, The Tip, really useful too. 

You launched Seven Hills in the recession. Why then and where did the idea come from?

Nick [Giles, Michael’s co-founder at Seven Hills] and I were convinced the emerging power in the economic fight-back would be entrepreneurs. We also felt that the recession seemed a tactically good time for a young business to come to market, particularly one which was optimistic and offered a new proposition. We set up Seven Hills with the express intention of being the new Saatchi’s, but the trip to IKEA was a great leveller of that lofty ambition.­ I’m not sure Maurice had to assemble his own desk! We had a line about our first year targets – our shorthand was 'Virgin and Dragons’ Den' and by the end of the first year we were working with Peter Jones and had written a report with Sir Richard Branson called Disruptive Influence. 

Thinking smarter and being creative is something many struggle with. Any tips for people who want to unleash their creativity but don’t know where to start?

Creativity is a major part of my life, so understanding what helps and diminishes it is very important. You need to manage it and pace it – it’s not a tap you can turn on and off. A positive mindset is hugely instructive in unleashing creative expression and I find the more physically fit and hydrated I am, the more creative I’m likely to be. When I get blocked I head to the nearest park for a walk – a change of perspective always helps re-energise the creative spark.  

For your book Mission, you travelled the world speaking to entrepreneurs. Who inspired you the most and why?

I spent a good deal of time in Austin, Texas, with John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods and was struck by his belief in the empowering role of business and the contribution he believed it could make to the world. He was hugely impressive as both a leader and a thinker. 

You travel often for business but how important is travel to you personally?

Very important! Travel is a brilliant thing to do: it provides great time and space to think and never fails to inspire me creatively. Travel provides an opportunity to see worlds where things are approached differently. You only learn from that. 

When you travel what do you always take with you?

I love photography so I take my very heavy but beautiful camera wherever I go. 

What’s your favourite hotel?

The Battery in San Francisco. Bebo founder Michael Birch built it as a members’ club and private residence but it also operates as a boutique hotel. It’s staggeringly beautiful. 

And anywhere you want to go to?

I’ve always wanted to go to India; I’ve studied its history extensively, I love its food and have met so many great Indians. I believe in it as one of the most vibrant and brilliant nations for our world’s future. It inspires my imagination.


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