By Polaris managing director Ben Pinnington
I am very saddened by the passing of my friend, former boss, client and mentor the veteran entrepreneur Len Collinson who died this year in October. This Christmas I have been reminded of his impact and the perceptive observations from our many meetings continue to ebb and flow. I first met Len in 2004 during the North West Says NO campaign against regional devolution when I ran its press operation, a time when he wielded considerable power in the region having recently led a walk-out of all the business groups from the then unelected North West Assembly. He approached me later that year to run the press office for the Forum of Private Business which he ran as chairman aged 72 a time when most have retired. Years later Len told me his doctor had warned him to carry on working, as retired people dreamt of a relaxed lifestyle but became bored and ill after the 15th cruise and endless rounds of golf . But for someone as obsessed with work, and with Len’s brilliant business brain, contacts and track-record, retirement was not a word in his vocabulary. At the FPB I jokingly called the new PR campaign, Operation Piledriver, a phrase he liked and used with some consternation. If you worked for Len he was not shy of putting you under pressure, and if someone shirked from a task he’d make it clear with a glint in his eye, ‘let’s not get all middle class about this.’ You were expected to deliver or face the music. But when you got to know him it was clear he wanted to make people better if you were prepared to listen and learn. Len loved to make an impact and a difference. And what strikes me now is how able he was – he used to tell me that people ‘did not know how’ to handle a certain situation or person. I look back at how he helped me because he had the ability and experience. I remember once he had prepared a wise set of words and read them out to me, it was in these moments that Len showed his ability to help and his friendship. People have said to me Len was a one off, and he really was. He was vastly knowledgeable and experienced, razor sharp in the counter-punch, proudly pedantic and a wide ranging enriching conversationalist.
In 2004, Len was the first person to talk to me about the importance of management pointedly saying ‘journalists don’t want to manage’, which on reflection from my time in newsrooms was more than a little true. He also used to say management was the most important job in the workplace but ‘bloody difficult’, few who understand the graft of starting and growing a small business would disagree with this. Len had the stomach for management warts and all and took the time to get to know people and what motivated them. He was an astute listener and picked out words that hinted at someone’s true intention whether they recognised it or not and challenged them. To meet Len was the beginning of a journey, to get to know oneself strengths and weaknesses, and Len always told it straight however uncomfortable.
Len built up the management consultancy Collinson Grant, whose awesome client list included Rolls Royce globally, so when he spoke it was wise to shut up and listen. Len was known as the business doctor and many MPs and businessmen and women, particularly in the North West, beat a path to his door seeking elusive answers to difficult problems or change. He usually reeled off an illuminating observation immediately such was his depth of experience and natural gift for insight into people. His old school direct style could ruffle feathers but he was brilliant to work with such was the learning he was willing to share and his insatiable curiosity and interest in life. I am personally eternally grateful for the time and guidance he gave me until his recent illness. He always told me that his door was open, and how that is missed now by me and many others. I remember fondly watching Len tell Sir Kenny Dalglish, who he seemed to know from living in Formby and who was a guest on a table Len had taken at a charity event in Liverpool, that football was the worst run and regulated industry in business. Kenny listened thoughtfully. That was Len fearless, wise and knowledgable, the bosses boss. See you on the other side Len, if the boss-ganger up there needs advice – he has the right man. Len’s blog: https://lnkd.in/ejcJPpN