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Exclusive Interview: John Haynes Meets Frank McKenna

by John Haynes - YBE. Published Fri 27 Nov 2009 16:47

Where are the Leaders?

Leadership is the most important single factor in determining business success or failure in our competitive, turbulent, fast moving economy. The quality of leadership is the decisive strength or weakness of our businesses in Liverpool as a city and our country. The ability to step up to the plate and provide the necessary leadership is the key determinant of achievement in all human activities.

This month I am speaking to Frank McKenna.

The reason I have chosen Frank McKenna for my lets fly with the eagles interview, is that he is one leader in our city, who seems to have the courage and honesty to see the world as it is and not as he wishes it to be. As you read this interview I want you to appreciate the honesty and courage that Frank has shown as he has gone through much adversity, ties and setbacks in his life. But like true leaders, he has kept faith with his own beliefs and values. He has fought back and is now becoming a true and inspirational leader in this city, which by the way is definitely lacking and needed in many quarters. Read and enjoy about the real Frank McKenna………………

I’ve known Frank McKenna for many years now, in fact I was one of the very first members of Downtown Liverpool in Business. To be honest with you, there aren’t many people on Merseyside that don’t know him now. So were did Frank come from and how does he find himself in the position he is in today.

Frank started out his working life as a welfare rights officer at the tender age of just 19 in Leicester. He fondly remembers working there between 1983 and 1984, even stating his salary at the time of £7190 per annum. From here, Frank went on to study at Liverpool University and in 1986 got a job as senior community developer in St Helens. Much of his time in this role was spent putting together proposals which were subsequently put before politicians to make decisions on. So in 1986, Frank decided to become a politician and was the youngest county councillor in Lancashire at the time, at just 26 years of age. In 1991 he headed social services in Lancashire, which was the biggest in the country at that time and then, in 1992 he came to the attention of the Labour leadership and was made a Parliamentary Assistant in Westminster. He held this role for 7 years and during this time was part of Tony Blair’s campaign team. Then in 1999, Frank was voted Deputy Leader of Lancashire County Council, as well as being the leader of the North West Regional Assembly. This role as Deputy Leader was something that Frank cherished. The actual leader at the time was more of a figure head, so Frank effectively led Lancashire County Council from day one, in actual fact he was officially elected leader soon after and described by the Financial Times as the most powerful politician in the north west.

It is fairly safe to say that Frank had achieved a considerable amount in his early career. Unfortunately, like many things in life, what goes up can also come down. After being elected leader, Frank found himself being investigated by the police for overspending. You see as a politician, you have a budget you can spend on campaigning for an election; at the time this was £10,000. Now if you’re in a marginal seat, it would be quite common to use every last penny of this, but if your seat was safe, that would be unnecessary. Frank was in a safe seat. He was extremely confident that he had not overspent at all. In fact it turns out that the investigation was for a £66 overspend. Given his confidence about his innocence and the amount of the alleged overspend; Frank was sure that this wouldn’t go any further. Then just before the 2001 election, he got the news that the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to prosecute the case. This now made Frank’s position untenable. He remembers at the time thinking, “in any other walk of life, you are innocent until proven guilty, but in politics, an accusation can end your career”. He was stunned and resigned under duress.

All of Frank’s income had come from politics, now he was out of a job. He quickly decided that he would have to become self employed, after all, who would want to employ him with a criminal investigation ongoing against him. He started off advising the private sector on matters to do with the public sector, in the mean time, the investigation continued. His house had been raided, he had been arrested and in 2003, not long after Frank’s 40th birthday, a date was set and 4 weeks set aside for his court case. Frank actually remembers a meeting with his barrister, after he had reviewed his case, and his barrister telling him that he never tells anyone they are going to be found innocent, as you never know how things will go on the day, but he will be found not guilty. The case was being heard in Chester Crown Court. The judge threw the case out on the first day, there was no case to answer. Franks team has estimated that the cost of investigating and bringing to court this alleged overspend of £66 was in excess of £11 million. Also whilst the investigation was ongoing, Frank was constantly in the press, for all the wrong reasons. In fact he was told that he is the only man to appear in 70 consecutive editions of Private Eye. But Frank also recalls that to the credit of the journalists that covered the investigation, they also covered the fact that his case had been thrown out.

So, after the highs of being elected as leader of a county council, to the lows of being the subject of an unfounded criminal investigation, in April 2004 Frank set up DLIB. In fact, DLIB was set up as a political lobby group, mainly for the property sector, but through demand from its members, also became a networking organisation. So what made Frank go from being a successful politician to a successful business man? What was his motivation for fighting through and not only surviving, but actually doing well? Franks first response to this question was having great people around him, which to be honest, must be part of the answer, but there has to be more to it. He then said that everyone has to find their own reasons, but for him, he really felt an “I’m going to show them” attitude. He also felt as though he had a responsibility to his family to get himself back out there and achieve something. But behind all of these reasons, there is an underlying drive which he has had since childhood, to be the best at whatever he does.

What of the future now for Frank and DLIB. 2010 looks like being a very important year for the business. With plans to move into Manchester, this will be a huge leap forward and is only possible because of the investment that’s been made into employing and motivating a young and high achieving team of people who are able and driven to move the business forward. Frank openly admits that the businesses greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness, himself. So after just over 5 years of trading, DLIB is moving to the next level, a level were it can survive and prosper with or without Frank McKenna. There have certainly been mistakes made along the way, Frank actually says that he has made far more mistakes in business than he ever did as a politician, the only difference is that as a business man, you are able to simply pick yourself up from your mistakes, brush yourself off and try a different way, were as a politician, you are generally nailed to the wall, either by the press, or your opposition every time you do the slightest thing wrong.

So would Frank ever go back into the political arena? Well, you can never say never. He feels that at this moment in time he certainly wouldn’t. “I have the best job in the world right now”, so why would he leave that. If however, maybe in a few years time, his succession plan was successful and DLIB could not only survive, but prosper without him and an opportunity arose for him to run for a post such as elected Lord Mayor of Liverpool, then he may consider it, but there does appear to be a lot of ‘if’s’ in there.

Frank has a great vision for the future, but can he predict it. I wanted to know if he was prepared to make a few predictions about anything he felt like. Here is what he came up with. “The next 10 years for Liverpool will be better than the last. The next 5 years for DLIB will be better than the last. Everton Football Club will win a trophy this year. Liverpool Football Club will win the Champions League this year”. You heard it here first folks. Let me tell you, as a devoted blue, that last one hurt him to say.

Great business leadership is characterized by honesty, truthfulness, and straight dealing with every person, under all circumstances.

Keep leading Frank, keep this city of ours on its toes, by having the courage to tell it the way it is. Keep your honesty, fun and above all keep your passion, love and desire to make Liverpool and its business community the very best.

Thanks for your time Frank, you are a true leader.

You can see more about Frank and DLIB at www.downtownliverpool.com

You can read this article online from Your Business eZine with all images by going to the Your Business eZine | Liverpool | December edition at www.yourbusinessezine.com


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