What I've Learnt: Chris Kemp, CEO at Ingenuity

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo
Chris Kemp, Ingenuity

New business agency Ingenuity helps agencies win new clients, and marketers find the best agency for their requirements.

Chris set up the company 14 years ago, when he was just 25. Today, Ingenuity has a team of nearly 50, all working to match world-famous brands with marketing agencies. 

Ingenuity offers seven new business services - namely lead generation, agency recommendations, content, PR, brand partnerships, events and insight. Chris has led the organisation since its inception, creating a positive work culture and helping achieve bigger and better things for Ingenuity.

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

Seeing my girls in the morning. I love to start my day by making sure I have some quality time with them before I jump on the Northern line. 

What's been your luckiest break?

Being at the right place at the right time. Before Ingenuity, I was working for a new business agency and due to their mismanagement, it went under. I was able to use this to my advantage.

I had a close relationship with the clients there and they trusted me. Off the back of this I was able to take a business out of administration and create Ingenuity, taking many of my clients with me and strengthening my contact base. Basically, timing is everything, but also spotting the opportunity and not being afraid to take the risk is key. 

What's your best failure?

Trying to set up a PR business that wasn’t close enough to the core of Ingenuity. It was a separate arm to the business entirely, sitting under the brand of Acuity. It felt very much like two separate teams, so in 2018 we rebranded Acuity and changed the focus and management to Ingenuity PR. This was a great step for the whole of the business, as we created an integrated offering for our clients and also improved our culture as a whole. 

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

People. The best investments, and those that I would never ever regret, are the team members I employ.

At Ingenuity, we hire a lot of junior members who stay and grow with the business. Many of our team leaders joined the company when it was still in its early stages. For example, one of our Business Directors, Dominic Glenn, joined as a graduate eight years ago, and our Managing Partner, Duncan Wood, has been part of the team since 2009.

I pride myself that people don’t just come and go, they work their way up through the business. I want to give others the opportunity I had, in order to stay and progress through the company. 

How would you describe your work/life balance?

It’s definitely a work in progress. In the last few years I’ve become a dad (twice!) which gives you time to reflect on where your priorities lie. Although, I admit I do need to learn that when I’m on holiday, playing golf, or with my family, it’s OK to cut myself off from my phone and emails - but this is definitely easier said than done when you care so much about the business! 

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

I’m currently reading 'Shoe Dog', a memoir by Nike Co-founder Phil Knight, which looks back at the history of Nike from its early struggles to its evolution into one of the biggest and most well-known sport brands.

It’s a great story because he explains how he brought an eclectic mix of people together to create a high-achieving global brand. He’s also very honest about the hurdles he had to overcome along the way. It’s great to see how clearly his single-mindedness and drive helped him to reach his goals. 

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

I was lucky enough to start Ingenuity at the age of 25, so I would say never doubt yourself or give up.

At 21, I didn’t necessarily think I would be a CEO within four years; but I always had a vision of where I wanted to go with my career. It’s important to be true to yourself, be nice to people and work hard. At the age of 21, it’s easy to feel disheartened when things don’t always go right, but if you stay dedicated and do your best, you’ll have the best chances of getting to where you want to be. 

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

There are a couple of clients from early days that have become true friends and mentors along the way. I feel lucky that these clients have continued to support me as my business has grown and evolved and that we can genuinely help each other through the challenges we face in our respective businesses.

Sometimes a bit of tough love goes a long way!

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I lived in France for four years and can’t speak a word of French…

What does success look like to you?

For me, success is just us growing more and more as a business, expanding our offering further and continuing to improve and innovate in what we do.

The biggest success we’ve had so far is seeing our competitors constantly copying our business model as it continues to evolve. To be honest, I take this as a massive compliment, as when this happens it means we are doing things right and are at the top of our game.