What I've Learnt: Ian Henderson, CEO at AML Group

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo
Ian Henderson, AML Group

Ian Henderson is CEO at AML Group, an independent London agency founded in 2011 to create simple ideas for complicated businesses. 

The team brings high-level strategic and creative integrated thinking to global organisations and local startups in finance, technology, professional services, social enterprise and government.

AML Group's clients include BNP Paribas and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, and its large team works across advertising, social, video, digital, events, and content.

We found out what Ian had to say about his work and life.

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

It’s become a shocking cliché, but if I miss my daily bike ride I get quite scratchy. It doesn’t just mean I can eat and drink what I like, it keeps me sane. And I have had one or two good ideas at 25kph. 

What's been your luckiest break?

It’s all luck, really. Getting my first job as a copywriter from meeting a bloke in a pub who fancied my girlfriend. Taking over as creative director for the first time when someone did a sudden flounceout. Getting asked to be CEO when they thought even a creative director couldn’t make the numbers any worse. 

What's your best failure?

I’d started an agency as part of a bigger group which got off to a great start. But it was in the middle of the economic crisis, we won too much too fast, everything got overstretched and we had a few... personnel issues.

It closed, but probably taught me more about people and business than any of the successful agencies I’ve been involved in. 

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

Can I pick two? One is my family - three amazing kids who constantly astonish me in ways I least expect. The other is AML - after the previous bonfire of fun I was going to set up another agency, but a clever recruiter put together a buyin which let two very nice men retire as they wanted to, and introduced me to new partners in a strong business which we relaunched as AML Group.

That gave us a headstart on growth and it felt a lot less risky than doing a startup from scratch. 

How would you describe your work/life balance?

Makes me a bit tetchy, this question - it starts from the assumption that work and life are somehow in opposition to each other. If they are, work on getting a job you are happy to spend more of your life on. Then it doesn’t much matter which is which or where the balance lies. (I’m writing this at 6:45 on a Saturday evening, mind you.)

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

Recently, 'Digital Minimalism' by Cal Newport. Technology is incredibly useful and can make our lives far richer than they’d otherwise be, but it’s designed to become addictive. So be like Cal and don’t let it. I’m still hoping to put some of his ideas into action. 

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

Do what you enjoy doing and don’t worry about the rest. Before I discovered literature, and then advertising, I was going to be an aeropace engineer because I thought it was expected of me. Countless lives have doubtless been saved by my change of career. 

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

Probably a motorbike accident a long time ago. Bad things can happen, even if you do everything to avoid them. I also realized people were depending on me so I’d better get to work on making good things happen. 

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I really like building spreadsheets. Ideally involving pivot tables. 

What does success look like to you?

Being able to choose.