What I've Learnt: Claire Hynes, Co-founder and CEO of Mr President

Josh Peachey's picture
by Josh Peachey

Mr President is an independent creative agency based in Soho Square. Claire Hynes set it up in September 2012 and has been the CEO since.

Mr President's clients include the likes of Facebook, Mercedes-Benz, Ethiad Airways, The Body Shop, Stonewall, and Capital FM. Claire shares what she's learnt during her time in the marketing industry. 

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

Sleep, and lots of it. There’s not a single problem that isn’t better solved after a good night’s kip.  I make a huge fuss about perfecting the routine:

  1. No emails late in the evening – not even a quick peek (this usually fails)
  2. Lots of carbs, because you can’t sleep hungry (no problems with this one)
  3. A hot bath
  4. A nice cold room
  5. Falling asleep while reading a good book. No business books, escapist fiction only. Works like a dream

What's been your luckiest break?

Probably stumbling into my first job, literally, by meeting a chap on a boozy studenty night out who happened to work somewhere that sounded cool and was willing to introduce me to them. The next morning, I remembered to follow up and it led to a role at a small but very ambitious digital agency called AKQA, and it went on to become one of the biggest and most successful in the world.

I arrived with no clue as to what I was doing, was thrown into the deep end and very quickly learned the ropes. It helped me understand what it takes to grow a new type of business in a new sector.

What's your best failure?

There have been a few incidents that felt like failures at the time: a disastrous project in one job, coupled with a shitty horrible boss who I couldn’t win over, doing work that I didn’t enjoy.

It felt like I’d really got everything wrong. But eventually I left, and later discovered that the horrible boss was a borderline psychopath, no one could win him over, and he ended up the subject of legal proceedings.

Meanwhile, learning what I didn’t like helped me go after something in my next role that I really did love. My advice on failure is – give it a year before you judge whether you failed or not. Failure often transforms into something quite brilliant once you’re out the other side.

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

Putting blood, sweat and occasionally tears into Mr. President is an investment I’m immensely proud of.

And my kids. Without bragging – they’re completely brilliant human beings and I’m both amazed and proud at how lovely, clever, kind and handsome they both are. I like to think it’s all down to my investment in them…

How would you describe your work-life balance?

Sometimes it feels like I never have enough time for work, and never have enough time for family at home. But then I look at the kids (see bragging point above) and think they’re turning out pretty well despite not being the 100% sole focus of attention all the time.

Ultimately we all have to set our own rules about how much working life encroaches on family and vice versa. We’re all different. I’ve always worked hard but I’ve protected weekends, I work from home on Fridays, I don’t work into the night.

I don’t like the dogma that if you set up your own business, you have to pull regular all-nighters and spend your holidays on the phone doing deals. It’s an off-putting and macho view that most women don’t find appealing.  

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

I am an escapist reader and try to avoid business books, especially at bed time. I like to feed the imagination instead. I’ve just read Rebecca for probably the fifth time in my life.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart is incredible. I’ve just finished reading The Salt Path by Raynor Wyn, about a couple who lose everything, become homeless and decide to walk 630 miles of West Country coastline while they work out what to do next.

All inspiring in different ways, transporting the reader to a different place and time, and giving perspective on where you are now.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Carry on! My 21-year-old self had it just about right. I was still at university at that point, working hard studying something I loved (lots of Shakespeare and modern fiction) with no thought at all about where it would take me or what the career path would be.

I was just enjoying it for what it was. In the end, the career path question answered itself thanks to the chance bar encounter that set me on the path towards learning to run a creative business, which ultimately led to Mr. President.

Sometimes I think my 21-year-old self is an excellent source of inspiration to the current me – just enjoy what you’re doing and the future will take care of itself. 

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

There have been many, but over recent years I’d have to say my partners at Mr President, Nick, Laura and Jon. We all bring entirely different qualities to the business, but share the same vision, ambition and sense of purpose.

We’ve learned a lot from each other, shaped each other, challenged each other and supported each other over time, as the business has evolved, we’ve evolved alongside it.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I’m quite good at darts.

What does success look like to you?

Success is living a life you enjoy, doing work that matters, with good people, while making plenty of time for friends, family, and everything else life has to offer.