Allen Sheppard – Baron Sheppard of Didgemere KCVO: 1932-2015June 18, 2015
Robert Gordon Clark, Executive Chairman, London Communications Agency, gives his personal tribute to Lord Sheppard, former Chairman of London First, who sadly passed away this year.
Earlier this year London lost one of its most important champions. Allen Sheppard, former founding Chairman of London First, died in April and his memorial service was held earlier this month. Attending that event with many top business leaders of his generation bought back strong memories of my time working with him in the 1990s.
I joined London First, after three years with London Arts Board, in the autumn of 1993, a year after it was launched. At that time we squatted at the top of the HQ of Grand Metropolitan, in palatial St James’s Square, which Allen then ran as Chairman and CEO.
Allen would regularly invite Stephen O’Brien, LF’s CEO and me to join him, after he had spent the day running Grand Met, to brainstorm some London idea or discuss the latest political machinations in the capital. For a young PR professional like myself, it was a massive privilege to spend so much time with him and so learn from him. His outward modesty hid a competitive spirit, unlimited energy and a real desire to make a difference for London which he demonstrated giving his time and leadership to many people. And always delivered with a twinkle in the eye and a witty comment as he paced ceaselessly and relentlessly around his office.
His memory was legendary. After reviewing some topic or plan, he used to tear up the carefully prepared documents – no matter how good they were – and consign them to the bin. The first time he did this to one of my papers, I was distraught. But then this, I realised, was not a sign of his displeasure. On the contrary, it was a signal that you had done a good job, were now entrusted to get on with it and do it as agreed. But equally I knew he would not forget a thing, as he took all that was written to memory.
I was so fortunate to work with him for six wonderful years. His decision to continue to lead London First through the general election of 1997 and into the New Labour era was fundamental in my decision to stay longer than I wanted. I had planned to set up London Communications Agency straight after the election. But two further years gave me the opportunity to work closely with him on the referendum for a new form of regional government for London and then the Greater London Authority Bill, which was enacted in 1999. And it was when working on the referendum campaign that I met Jonny Popper, my fellow founding partner of LCA, so Allen was right!
So when I came to set up LCA in 1999 it was with some trepidation that I went to see him to tell him the news – he had after all been voted Britain’s toughest boss and described memorably by an anonymous colleague as a man who “managed with a light grip on the throat”.
He was however delighted for me and immediately asked if he could buy a stake in the company. I even recall he got his cheque book out! To receive that level of confidence from one of the country’s great business leaders gave me a huge boost at precisely the right time. But then I should have known this as, despite his image of toughness, he was incredibly supportive to the people who worked for him, a fact reinforced at the memorial service from the likes of Gerry Robinson, Gerald Corbett and John Neill.
In the early stages of LCA’s development, we advised London First and I continued to help my successor, Patrick Kerr, and so saw a bit of Allen. Then in recent years we kept in touch and every time I saw him for lunch with Stephen O’Brien, Allen would regret not persuading me to sell a stake to him. His appetite for business never waned!
Tony Travers, in his lecture last month to mark the 50th anniversary of the London boroughs as we know them today, commented on the political upheaval of the 1980s which then led to a more pragmatic decade in the 1990s. Allen played a central role in this. He worked closely with politicians from all parties in the London Pride Partnership, the informal but nevertheless influential forerunner to the new GLA. Politicians from the left such as Nicky Gavron, Sally Hamwee and Toby Harris worked well with a man widely credited for helping John Major win the 1992 general election for the Conservatives. He personally became persuaded of the need for a new form of government in London in the run up to the 1997 General Election and after that he worked hard to see it achieved.
His sense of humour was legendary and many of the guests at the lunch after the memorial service, kindly organised by London First, reminisced about his wit and jokes. My own favourite was when we held a major event in March 1997 to mark the start of an incredible period of investment in London in the run up to 2000. London was to become the “World’s Millennium City”. We had been loaned the top floor of Canary Wharf tower by the late Paul Reichmann. Hundreds of the great and the good arrived at 730am to hear from Ministers, business leaders and arts organisations about the billions of pounds of Lottery money and other investment being ploughed into London, and gaze out across the great metropolis. The plan was scuppered by the worst fog ever, with visibility less than three feet. Allen of course welcomed everyone and immediately castigated Paul Reichmann for not getting the windows cleaned.
Reichmann, renowned for his retiring public persona, chuckled away and the event kicked off in the right manner.
But perhaps my best memory of him was a very personal one. He sent me an annual Christmas card when I worked at London First. He had a habit of giving me a mark out of ten, alongside a message for the season. I recall getting at least a couple of 9 out of 10s. I never got a 10 out of 10 and rightly so. Now, when running my business I always strive to get that full mark from Allen and his influence on my career has been absolutely fundamental to my success, for which I will be forever grateful.
Robert Gordon Clark, Executive Chairman, London Communications Agency
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