Neil Bent (Management Science - Marketing, 1989, Lonsdale) recognised that his studies made him most grateful for the way they prepared him to run his own business.
Today he runs Able Marketing Communications Ltd based in Glossop in the Peak District, working on everything from start-ups to international projects in Europe, USA and Australia. His office is at home, using 4-5 regular contributors and the help of a Manchester-based research company, with a focus on PR, consultancy and mentoring. He’s living life on his terms.
He says: “For me self-employment has exceeded my expectations. If you are looking for 100% activity and pay when you are ill, don’t do it, but you want to be in charge of your own destiny, then there is nothing better.”
His work is to sell clients strategies, not quick fixes, which he learned at Lancaster. He also uses research skills he gained and even occasionally dips into some of his old lecture notes. His psychology studies taught him to read people’s body language and to give them the platform to express themselves. Bent might never have gone to university at all - let alone Lancaster - had it not been for a hard-headed schoolteacher. Born and bred in inner city Birmingham and a pupil at a rough inner city school, Bent never considered university, but on the last day of university applications, his business studies teacher, Tim Ellen, asked him where he had applied. When Bent said he had not, Ellen barred the classroom door until he had completed an application - a process which took more than two hours.
“He was a total inspiration,” recalls Bent. “Without him I would never have made an application. I thought university was for posh people.” Having visited four universities, he fell for Lancaster on sight, because of the welcome from management school tutors and the gym and sport centre facilities. He was also attracted by the thought of a college-based system on the edge of a town.
The first week was terrifying, convinced that everyone but himself was ‘posh’ and he spent the first night eating cheese on toast with a friend from school in her room in order to avoid a kitchen party in Lonsdale. It did not take him long, however, to realise the diversity of the social mix around him and the barriers came down. From then on every moment of his life at Lancaster outside his studies was taken up with either sport or socialising. He was Vice President of the Lonsdale JCR, played 5-a-side, learned karate, went to the gym up to five times a week, was a member of the film society and developed friends he keeps to this day.
Academically he found it easy. He wanted to learn and he was clear that the staff were there to teach him to do so. He had the choice about whether to do the minimum or to go and read round the subject. He says: “I loved the flexibility and the freedom.”
Several of the lecturers were inspirational, in particular Professor of Marketing, Geoff Easton, who Bent took as his role model, because he explains: “Every time he opened his mouth he said something interesting.” Monday 9am lectures with George Long were a joy, because of his sense of humour and Rav Singh made lectures into stories.
Organisational psychology proved a revelation and Bent still uses some of what he learned then, in particular a comparative study of work practices in M&S, Woolworth and McDonald’s, from which he still quotes regularly. Teaching strategic thinking was a core aspect of Lancaster’s approach so he learned to set long-term goals and work out how to achieve them, which has stood him in good stead as a self-employed person. After his finals, Bent gained his first job as a PR executive in an advertising agency in Birmingham, which immediately felt right because of the practical experience his Lancaster studies had given him.
After stints at the regional arm of a national PR consultancy, an in-house PR and marketing management role with HSBC and a spell at a PR agency in Oxford, he was appointed of Head of Marketing PR for T-Mobile - ‘the best job in the world - working for someone else’. As T-Mobile sponsored the England team, Bent’s job included following the players around the world. He even found himself chartering a helicopter to dash the then England manager Kevin Keegan and himself to a football match in Liverpool.
His decision to leave his ‘dream job’ was because of the rapid growth of the company after he joined it and the inevitable increase in bureaucracy and rigidity. So, in 2002, he decided to start his own PR agency, Able Communications, which has now grown into the broader Able Marketing Communications Ltd.
Any initial big aspirations for a home in the Bahamas and a large yacht were quickly replaced a year later by something smaller and more flexible, when he damaged his back falling downstairs and spent a month in hospital and a year of convalescence. Suddenly the advantages of running a flexible small business became clear. He could take time off when he needed, be there to collect his step-children from school, as well as making enough money to enjoy a good quality of life.
He says: Lancaster taught me the basics, but also lit the spark that ignited my passion for marketing. I learned how to build relationships with different sorts of people and cemented my desire one day to be in charge of my own destiny. I have proved you can have a laugh, party hard and be good at your day job.”