In the Hot Seat: David Evans

GRG's CEO talks to Bhavna Mistry about marrying socialism and capitalism.

"The secret of success is to believe you're a promising 21-year-old, and I still believe it," says David Evans, chairman and chief executive of The Grass Roots Group.

Evans may be a tad older than 21, but his energy appears boundless: he's still at the helm of the company he started 25 years ago and still growing it. Currently, GRG has a presence in Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia Pacific, and in the UK includes Grass Roots, Projectlink Motivation, W Group, GRG One Fee, and Parallel Promotions under its umbrella. It has just announced a 14 per cent increase in gross profit to £22.8 million and a 24 per cent hike in pre-tax profit of £4.3 million for the year ending June 2005.

The numbers should keep Sir Martin Sorrell happy - GRG is WPP's oldest associate company and it "respects us" says Evans. It's also not a bad show for a man who describes his business as "humanistic" and sums himself up as a Christian socialist - "my father was a left-wing trade unionist and my mother was a robust Christian" - with a healthy Buddhist respect for work/life balance.

Those who know Evans agree there are two sides to him. "He's giving to staff and the industry at large, but he can also be arrogant and self-promoting, and a lot of people are wary of him," alleges one observer.

He's clearly not motivated by money: "I don't have a plane or a yacht and the company is not an extended wallet for me." But he does like the control and power it can command. He has a robust intellect, leaping from politics to social theory to business with ease and alacrity, but he demands a captive audience.

And these dichotomies have created a rare thing in today's world: a visionary businessman and entrepreneur with strong and demonstrable philanthropic credentials.

His focus has created and developed a far-flung network within which, at least in the UK, work/life balance is a key part of the culture - there's public recognition of long service, birthdays and other anniversaries.

He contributes to the community around GRG's Tring HQ, with a Grass Roots theatre, stadium and even a nature trail at the local school, partly funded by GRG. Most tellingly, he's proud of the fact that in the 25 years since GRG was born, it has contributed £116 million in tax in the UK and "I don't regret a single penny of it".

There's more to come for the taxman. Evans claims to work with nearly half of the companies on the FSTE 100. But he's far from bored by it.

He is evangelical about motivation and his next goal, he says unabashedly, is world domination: more worldwide acquisitions. As he concludes: "Restlessness is an essential ingredient to man's progress and so it is with companies."

CV 2005: The Grass Roots Group (GRG) buys Parallel Promotions and merges the platform and Wunjo Communications to form W Group. 2003: GRG buys Projectlink Motivation 1986: The Promotions House (part of WPP) is reversed into Grass Roots 1980: Started Grass Roots 1977: Joined Maritz Early 70s: Various UK and US advertising agencies


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