My Big Break: Mike Stevenson, CEO, Thinktastic

MIKE Stevenson is a multi, award-winning communicator, speaker, commentator on leadership and entrepreneur, with more than 30 years’ experience. He leads Thinktastic, an agency that specialises in ‘motivational communications’.

When did working in the media first start becoming an ambition?

It was a question of seeking influence. At 16, I found myself sleeping on the streets of London and felt, for the first time, the harsh winds of utter powerlessness. Yet, every day I met fascinating people – each with a remarkable story to tell and an unique perspective on life. So, my first urge was to tell stories and use the media as a conduit for the ideas and experiences of people whose voices are never heard. That was a powerful motivator and I remember spending the night in a toilet cubicle in Piccadilly Circus, unable to sleep and dreaming up a role for myself as spokesperson for the powerless. To this day, my passion and skills are in giving volume, clarity and impact to my clients.

What was your first media job?

As a 31 year-old, I spent a short time at BBC Radio Scotland. That was in 1981, when Kirsty Wark and Sheena McDonald were both carving out their careers. I learned a lot in a short space of time and in one day saw at first-hand how a Royal story can beat all else into submission.

Stories ‘in the can’ included a Tim Sebastian report on the declaration of martial law in Poland, an armed hold-up of a Spanish courtroom and the release of a Scotswoman from Iranian captivity.

But when, in mid-afternoon, Charles Windsor and Diana Spencer announced their engagement, all hell broke loose. A genealogist, an Oban butcher who used to sell a young Diana sausages, and a host of other bizarre contributors were wheeled out.

I was gutted and quickly ruled out a newsroom career.

Describe, briefly, how your career unfolded between your first media job and where you are now.

It was a strange accumulation of experiences – I took to the stage as a singer-guitarist, did some acting and then became a community worker – hopefully earning a reputation for some fairly radical neighbourhood developments. I moved to Glasgow, where, for ten years, I headed up The Wise Group’s marketing department – reaching audiences across the city and getting some great national media coverage.

In 1994, I set up, in partnership, Design Links, an Edinburgh-based marketing agency and, over 18 years, we won a succession of awards and accolades for tackling sticky communication challenges.

We also produced some of the most prestigious corporate magazines in Scotland – until, that is, the bottom fell out the market.

Thinktastic is the embodiment of a lifetime’s learning and is a formula that is challenging traditional marketing approaches to achieve bigger and better results. One of the keys to our success is our ability galvanise organisational cultures that seem to have wilted.

Any particularly big breaks along the way?

Being asked to speak at the Institute of Cultural Arts in London’s Pall Mall – this was in 1977 and I was a bundle of nerves. An hour later, I knew I had won over a large audience. In reviews, I was then described as an inspirational speaker. Wow! That gave me great belief in the power of my delivery and ability to shift hearts and minds. I have since got better and better by practice – but that was the epiphany moment.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

A Welsh foreman, sporting a broken nose and a soft hat who, on my arrival on a building site in Earls Court, guided me to a corner and showed me a futuristic drawing of the building. “That”, he said, “is what you are helping to build.”

I saw then the power of great leadership and great communication and found myself working harder than I thought possible.

What I learned from him was that vision and shared purpose are key ingredients for success.

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started?

Always challenge what disnae work.