What did you want to be when you were 19 years old? Rather boringly, I was planning to be a historian, focusing on religious and political thought in the early modern period. I had already dispensed with the idea of being a lawyer or doctor – both worthy but potentially attainable choices.
John-Paul, a 19-year-old Londoner I had the pleasure of meeting last week, wants to set records. He applied to be Labour’s candidate for the Tooting by-election after Sadiq Khan stepped down to become London mayor. Unfortunately, he didn’t get an interview. Instead, 39-year-old local junior doctor Rosena Allin-Khan emerged victorious. John-Paul has a matter of months before he’s the same age as Scottish National Party politician Mhairi Black when she was elected last year, but he’s not giving up on being the youngest MP.
His enthusiasm and determination reminded me of the Arthur Miller quote Grey London’s outgoing chairman and chief creative officer, Nils Leonard, uses to fire up the agency and conference audiences. Emblazoned on a wall, the Death of a Salesman verse goes: "I’m not interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind because the woods are burning, you understand? There’s a big blaze going on all around."
We will see how that fight unfolds at Grey following the departure of Lucy Jameson and Natalie Graeme and the imminent exit of Leonard, as well as the promotion of chief strategy officer Leo Rayman to chief executive.
Three months ago, Jameson – who was chief strategy officer before she became chief executive – questioned the convention that planners do not make great chief executives. In a much-talked-about piece – planners can be so catty – she used her own example at Grey as exhibit one. I wonder how keenly Rayman was reading.
The success of Grey’s turnaround over the past eight or so years has been a heartening example of how far a bit of grit, determination and talent can get you. WPP’s lawyers will ensure that it will be a little while before we get to see the Leonard/Jameson/Graeme agency take shape. The trio might have decided to make a break for it as we stare down the barrel of another recession but, in doing so, they follow in the footsteps of the hugely successful Adam & Eve/DDB.
When Campaign tweeted about Leonard et al’s plans, someone responded that they would "work for free for a year for a chance to work with Leonard". People such as John-Paul – who is currently waiting for his A-level results before hopefully going on to study politics, philosophy and economics (naturally) – aren’t able to offer their services for free.
But some of you could offer yours. The social enterprise Advocacy Academy has given John-Paul and others like him the confidence to follow their dreams. You could help make them a reality. Get in touch if you want to know more.