Kevin Allen – Founder of KevinAllenPartners

[quote style=”boxed”]Start with a conundrum. I think great ideas come from problems to be solved. As a scrappy kid from the very outset, I always understood ideas as methods to get around things that everyone else took as a given. Idea should not be rooted in practicality. First come up with the idea. Then worry about how to pull it off![/quote]

Kevin is an expert in leading companies and individuals to achieve their ambitions. Kevin is the author of the Wall Street Journal best seller, The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way To Win Business and Create A Following. He spent two decades on the front lines at the top of advertising giants McCann WorldGroup, the Interpublic Group and Lowe Worldwide, and is recognized as one of the advertising industry’s most accomplished growth professionals.

A much loved and respected new business guru, Kevin even had one of his close colleagues coin him the Billion Dollar Man! A veteran of the Interpublic Group and a “Mad Man” of agency McCann Erickson, Kevin worked with brands such as MasterCard, where he led the pitch for the now globally famous “Priceless” campaign, Microsoft, Marriott, Smith Barney, Nestle, L’Oreal, Lufthansa and Johnson & Johnson. At McCann, he created what is arguably one of the industry’s most envied new business programs, which saw McCann WorldGroup named the number one agency in new business and Global Agency of the Year, two years in a row.

As Lowe Worldwide vice chairman, he played a pivotal role in the turnaround that saw the company named Ad Age’s “Turnaround Agency of the Year” in 2009. Over the course of his career, Kevin’s unique approach has played a leading role in bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in new billings to his agencies.

Kevin’s experience extends globally and across a wide range of sectors, including commercial, government and not-for-profit fields. He played a key part in the team that prepared the way for Rudy Giuliani’s successful mayoral election and turnaround strategies for the city of New York.

Kevin Allen is a highly skilled growth professional and is uniquely positioned to teach companies–and individuals –how to “win.”

What are you working on right now?

While preparing to celebrate the Queens Jubilee (as an ex-New Yorker) along with 60 million other British folks, I have, in the past 30 minutes, accepted an invitation to speak, written a long missive to our Nokia client, met with a wonderful woman from Kerry Foods of Ireland, checked on the renovation plans for our new club house, and eaten an entire bag of white chocolate buttons in one sitting!

Where did the idea for KevinAllenPartners come from?

Following a wonderful career in what I think is arguably one of the most exciting industries, the advertising industry, where I thrived on the thrill of new business pursuit, I wanted to take all I had learned and gained (from the wonderful mentors I’ve been fortunate enough to have throughout my entire career) and create a company dedicated to transforming how people and organizations grow. I realized early on that I get far more of a thrill seeing my clients win and watching them realize their real ambitions, both personally and professionally.

We’re proudly serving clients like Nokia, Rolls Royce Aerospace, Burberry Smythson and other fine companies. It’s hugely rewarding and so satisfying to see.

What does your typical day look like?

Well, today I was awakened at 6:00 a.m. by Raplhie and Dr. Sniffs, two bratty Beagles. At 7:30 I took a call with our CFO, who’s based in Sydney and chastises me. At 8:45 I had a management team meeting, during which time we went over programs for the week. Then it was time to make donuts! At 9:45 I had a wildly exciting call from Claudie, our learning and development chief, to discuss a new Nokia program. Woohoo! Then 15 minutes later I was off to White City for discussion with the BBC. (I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. De Mille.) At 12:30 was a coaching session with a fabulous CMO. Then I had a 2:00 meeting with a wonderful lady I met at the Women in Marketing Awards, as she’s interested in our Performance Enhancement Program!

I returned to the office at 4:30 and signed 10 books for 10 colleagues with whom I worked. At 5:30 I spoke with my mom, who shared her new title for our company: “Ultimate-last-word, no-contest, Chief-in-Charge-of-western-hemisphere KevinAllenPartners USA Ltd.” I offer no argument. At 6:30 was a lecture at the Cass Business School on “The Hidden Agenda: How to win the business you want and the following you seek.” It was a delightful group. Around 8:30 I had fish and chips (which was heaven!). Lastly, at 9:15 p.m., I painted the stairs in my house so they could dry overnight.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I rely on three time-tested methods:

  1. Start with a conundrum. I think great ideas come from problems to be solved. As a scrappy kid from the very outset, I always understood ideas as methods to get around things that everyone else took as a given. Idea should not be rooted in practicality. First come up with the idea. Then worry about how to pull it off!
  2. Pull the camera back. There is nothing like perspective. The ideas we generate are often much too close to the problem, and so it becomes much harder for them to become breakthrough concepts. Your ideation is better in a wider context. Additionally, I think adding a human truth to the discussion lends inspiration and emotion. Aren’t ideas concepts that ultimately serve humanity?
  3. Ask someone smarter than you. The definition of a stupid fellow is one who does not know his limitations! Seriously, celebrate the magic of the diversity around you. Diverse teams, by definition, are more creative and innovative. You don’t need to be the one to come up with the idea; instead be the person who ignites the brilliance that surrounds you.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Global communities. We have evolved into a myriad of global citizenships of people and talent working together to create great things that didn’t previously exist. The ultimate democratization, these communities are bound by values and beliefs, and are an enormous force for good.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was the midnight shift dishwashing room manager in an airline catering kitchen. It was 110 degrees. Steam and sweat made it difficult to see at times. Amidst it all, I learned probably my most important management and motivation lesson: being proud of what you do is not reserved for an “elite.” Everyone, no matter who they are, wants to go home at night and say, “Guess what I did today?”

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Not one, single, solitary thing–except not worry so much. Things really do happen for a reason, so relax and enjoy the journey.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Devise a real ambition, not just a plain ambition, to create something special and good that didn’t exist before. It is–and must be–something than seems literally impossible. Then link all the moving parts of your organization to make it happen. I call this ambition-based planning. I constantly review and revise our real ambition plan to remind us all of the clearly defined direction in which our exciting journey is taking us. It’s so gratifying to tick things off the plan once those real ambition markers become a reality. It’s so empowering–a feeling that is strongly felt by our entire team.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

That’s easy: defining what we do succinctly. You’d think as a 20-year veteran I’d have had it knocked out, but as they say, the shoemaker’s child goes barefoot! I got help from objective, trusted friends and colleagues, and formed a “kitchen cabinet.” They were invaluable sparring partners and guides. This is especially true since I was plotting a new course, where existing norms and frames of references didn’t apply.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Develop products that have an emotional appeal and make people say, “I must have it!”

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

Eliminate selfishness. How? Lead by example.

Tell us a secret.

I really love wing tip shoes. I really do.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

  1. Twitter is my favorite. I love being able to engage, have two-way conversations and share knowledge with an ever-expanding group of lively, new people.
  2. LinkedIn is another amazing network resource. I love its reach and its intimacy. It’s also a treat to be able to find people I really like and admire, who I lost touch with over the years.
  3. Blogging is something I really enjoy. I love to write, and the real buzz is that I can have a dialog with people, almost in real time, about any topic. So gratifying!

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The best business book ever written: The Little Prince. In it, the fox says to the little Prince after his journey, “And now, here is my secret, it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

  1. Stuart Elliot (@stuartenyt) at the New York Times for his brilliance, wit and insight.
  2. Moe Abdou (@moeabdou) of 33 Voices; he’s a fabulous guy.
  3. The Harvard Business Review (@HarvardBiz), because it’s just so smart.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Today at 9:45 a.m. Dr. Sniffs walked on my newly painted (and white) floor. There were black paw prints everywhere.

Who is your hero?

Hands down, my mom. She single-handedly raised four of us in impossible circumstances with unflinching optimism and good humor.

What is the most important thing you can do to be a success in business?

Be yourself.

What is the most important thing you can do to be a success in life?

Be yourself.


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