Learning from a 74-year-old newbie

Sir Martin Sorrell at AdWeek Europe

Henry Ford once said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning, stays young.”

I went to see the ever-brilliant Kathleen Saxton (Founder, Lighthouse) interview Sir Martin Sorrell about his new venture S4 Capital. I have to confess that wasn’t expecting to like what he said or how he said it. I was a little surprised at how inspired I was at the end of the session.

Sir Martin is 74 (not quite eighty) but he’s clearly done a lot of learning in the last twelve months. It was fascinating to hear someone who has spent the majority of his life doing things one way (the traditional holding company model) talk about how motivated he is by the changes in our industry, and the new ways of working they lead to.

I didn’t agree with everything he said. We’d have some pretty robust arguments about his binary view that big films or big campaigns don’t work for clients any more. But the thing that struck me and inspired me was listening to a bloke in his seventies (with literally nothing to prove) talk with such genuine infectious excitement for a new venture – or the 'clean sheet of paper' as he called it. As someone myself who is about to launch a new venture it was fabulous to hear him talk about how exciting it was to 'start in a room with nothing but an idea…exhilarating.'

I was impressed at hearing how his new venture will champion fusion of data, content and media. I loved to hear about the McKinsey POV on what makes a successful new industry venture – find the open door. In both our cases, that door is the inflexibility of the traditional agency/client way of working. If Sir Martin can do it at 75 then there’s hope for me at 45.

So, all in all I was rather surprised on a rainy Tuesday afternoon to hear someone who spent thirty years building one company, doing things one kind of way, be so open to learning, adapting and changing for a new venture. I found myself in the unusual, unexpected position of not just warming to Sir Martin but also rooting for him a little bit too!

By Kevin Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour Collective (incoming).​