Fresh eyes

Guest blog: Great leaders tell great stories

guest blog - great leaders tell great stories
Simon Turner Freshfield Managing Director

Written by Simon Turner,
Chief Executive & Group Client Director at Freshfield

I am constantly on the lookout for leaders, chief executives, entrepreneurs and motivators to interview on stage, or to speak at conferences and the various events that I put on. Usually the people who are most receptive to the idea are those who you’d loosely describe as “PR friendly”. They have something to say, they know what their messages are and they know how they go about it.

But speaking honestly, even the ones who are not so content dealing with the media can be great interviewees. The ones who tell remarkable stories, but have to be persuaded to participate.

So, taking a look back here are five of my favourite interviews from over the last year or so.

Sir Charles Dunstone – relaxed, clearly used to speaking in public, very engaging and full of stories about what he’s achieved, lessons he’s learned and what he wants to get across about obligation and putting something back. The event was a Prince’s Trust annual interview in Liverpool with the equally engaging Sir Michael Bibby, we conveyed the charity element, but linked it to their own stories.

Eliza Manningham-Buller – at the launch event for my new venture Think More, I introduced four speakers, then chaired a panel discussion where they debated issues of leadership. Eliza was brilliant. As the former head of MI5 you’d expect a class act, but she blew everyone away with her insights on motivation and team work in a crisis.

Herbert Loebl – Herbert was deaf and he suffers from what he described as an incurable disease – old age. But what he has achieved since he arrived in Newcastle as a refugee from Nazi Germany has been incredible, building a string of engineering businesses, which still exist in the North East today. We made sure we shared some stories, which I read from his book, then he answered questions which he’d prepared in advance. A real show stopper and a triumph.

Ellis Watson – the chief executive of DC Thomson lit up the room at the launch of the Growth Accelerator service. A born communicator, he had people stomping and clapping with delight at his anecdotes as well as his wisdom.

Fred Done – I had to persuade Fred to do the interview as he’s not that keen on talking about his life, but he is happy to talk about the business. I spent time with him getting to know what his areas of interest were and how they would work as stories. I went to his house, his office and we had a cup of tea in a more informal environment. It was about getting him relaxed. By the end of the hour on stage at the Lowry Hotel he was like a stand-up comic on the Jonathan Ross show – he even got a cheer when he described the process of winning the Tote bid – “the flat caps beat the top hats!”

So, it’s worth bearing it in mind that you have a chief executive who is fun, bouncy and knows what they want to say, that’s good. However, the best ones on stage are those who have a great story to tell – and it’s worth investing time and effort into seeking these stories out.

About the author
Michael Taylor is the founder of Think More (, a new start-up business with the ambition to create thought-provoking and stimulating events. You can read about the event interviews he’s done this year at


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