What I've Learnt: Martin Loat, Founder and Chairman at Propeller Group

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Martin Loat, Propeller Group

Propeller Group Founder, Martin Loat, drives company strategy at the global PR company, which has headquarters in Bloomsbury.

Originally starting his career in the trade press, Martin wrote for a number of big-name publications before founding Propeller. As well as working with the PR agency, he also is a Director of Purple Pot -  a contactless payments system helping companies and workplaces collect money for charities.

We heard from Martin about the things that drive him.

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

Writing my to-do list for the day like a list of appointments on my iPhone calendar.

Listening to BBC Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up To Money via the BBC Sounds app. Frustratingly, as I listen usually two to three hours after it’s actually broadcast, I can’t tweet in ironic objections to Mickey Clark’s grumpy rejection of tech valuations.

What's been your luckiest break?

Well, you make your own luck, but landing an Editorial Assistant job on the launch team for Media Week magazine (now part of Haymarket Publishing) got my media career started and opened my eyes.

I also remember a typo on an early client contract after I’d started my PR agency, where I inadvertently wrote the quarterly fee in as a monthly fee. The client’s FD signed it, so that was what I billed.

What's your best failure?

Oh, where to start?

When the first 'dotcom bubble' burst around 2001/2002, my PR agency Propeller (which specialises in marketing, media and tech) got fired by two international media conglomerates on the same day (“Sorry, but the Americans say we must stand down all non-essential consultants”). That was painful and caused many sleepless nights. But it taught me to always have a new business pipeline going, through busy times and lean. That lesson has served me well.

Not so much “always be closing”, but “always be opening”.

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

Hiring a strong MD with skills complementary to my own. I remember the head-hunters gave me about seven names. None was suitable.

So, armed with Google, LinkedIn and a bottle of red wine, I searched out a candidate myself and passed the name to the head-hunters to make the call. I should have negotiated a reduced fee.

How would you describe your work/life balance?

Prolific!

I feel rather twin-speed. I am now Chairman of Propeller, and that is a mature independent SME. But recently I started another business called Purple Pot, which supplies contactless donation units to companies and offices so they can easily collect money for their chosen charities.

It is taking off as we approach the awards and office party season. So I am rolling my sleeves up and going back to my entrepreneurial roots, packing boxes and raising invoices.

I certainly believe that work is something you do, not where you go.

I work at home or in the countryside when I can, so that I can jump on my bike or walk the hills within minutes of shutting my laptop. 

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

Garry Kasparov’s 'The ten best chess games ever played'. 

I find chess is a wonderful way to exercise the mind, and vitally these days, create two to three hours of managed silence in the middle of a busy week. In a tournament, if your phone goes off, you lose.

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

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

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

The desire not to be reliant on anyone else for making my living.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I am Chairman of the Campaign for Equal Civil Partnerships, and we have achieved a law change that should make civil partnerships (as an alternative to marriage) available to opposite-sex couples by the end of this year. 

I am already in a legal heterosexual civil partnership. It is valid only in the Isle of Man. For now.

What does success look like to you?

Acclaim.