The Che Guevara revolutionaries launched their attack on the unsuspecting staff one dark and dreary afternoon in central London. Taking the staff of ad agency HHCL by surprise and holding hostages – they left a trail of mayhem in their wake. But how could it be in this 21st century when peace has reigned in the British Isles for more than half a century?
They might not have been the theoreticians of guerrilla warfare, like el Che, obvious inspiration for the coup, but the insurgents meant business in the hinterlands of HowellHenryland, better known as the headquarters of HHCL, one of the nation’s most progressive advertising agencies.
But wait, there is hope as HHCL’s maverick finance director and chartered accountant Paul Garrett enters stage right to save the day, dispersing the renegades, freeing hostages and generally restoring order to the rousing cheers of onlookers and the agency’s staff.
Before you start taking this too seriously, you should note that all this is based on the vivid imaginations of HHCL’s creative staff members.
With a corporate philosophy of ‘professional radicalism’, one would expect nothing less from the organisation that won Campaign magazine’s prestigious accolade for advertising agency of the decade in 2000 bringing us the much-loved advertisements for Tango, Iceland and Pot Noodle, to mention but a few.
The mock-up revolt took place together with a raft of other staged fun and frolics in order to create the company’s howellhenryland video. This particularly indulgent video is the eighth in a series that has been ongoing for two years. Shown on average every three months, the video idea came about in order to ‘add some zest’ to company meetings.
The most recent video, featuring FD Garrett, is apparently the last in the series, much to the disappointment of the hordes gathered for the company’s latest team building exercise. It was shown at the end of a very long, but rewarding away day for HHCL staff, and cheers abounded as hero and rather unconventional accountant Garrett came forth in a hail of glory.
Garrett is not your typical accountant, partly due to the industry in which he works and partly due to his laidback nature. And on this particular sunny November day in North London, he wasn’t doing what your typical accountant does on a Friday afternoon.
Accountancy Age caught up with Garrett and the HHCL gang last month at the company’s ‘very different’ away day. This year’s away day in celebration of the agency’s birthday was a far cry from previous years when employees got to don their furs and diamonds in Monte Carlo while spinning a few roulette wheels. Or last year’s Amsterdam trip when the whole team strode out in Dam square clad in obligatory white clothing. ‘We’ve chosen something different this year that will make a lasting difference to something other than our livers,’ explains Robin Azis, chief executive.
So this year, HHCL’ers were to be found bedecked in overalls with creative paint splashes and splinters to boot, as they attempted and succeeded to regenerate a rather forlorn-looking Crouch End Community Centre.
‘We’re going to give the place a major spring clean and a lick of paint, new signs, clear the overgrown grounds and tackle repairs,’ says Azis.
‘It will be a challenge for us – but I’m sure we have some budding Handy Andys in our midst just waiting to come up with the solutions that have made us famous.’
The prolonged bout of rain that had been lashing the country during autumn had as if by magic subsided for this special day and after a few moans and groans from those remembering previous year’s away-days, altruism and a sense of rising to the occasion kicked in. And indeed, budding Handy Andys did surface.
Accountancy Age arrived amidst the chaos of the stripping, chopping, cutting, sawing, grinding and shaving stage. But by the end of the day Crouch End community centre was a fit for a king. And the praise heaped on the company by the volunteers who run the community centre was flowing by the end of the day.
Dorsey Precht, CSV employee volunteering development manager, says: ‘The standing ovation by the volunteers for their organisers at the end was a wonderful expression of the benefits employee volunteering offers to the community and an employer.’
Crouch End community centre is open to the public six days a week, but had become rundown due to lack of funding and vandalism. The centre’s cafe provides locals with a space to socialise and the full calendar of activities, such as music evenings, sports activities and mother and toddler groups means the centre is the perfect place for locals to gather.
But in March 1999 following news of a threat to close the centre due to high running costs, a steering group of volunteer community members and user groups was formed. The group applied for trust status to secure their lease. This meant that the group was able to keep the centre open through sub-letting space to community businesses and service providers.
But it did not leave them with enough money to renovate the place.
The employee volunteering programme, CSV, put HHCL in touch with Crouch End Community Centre and the result was HHCL’s 2000 away day.
However, for HHCL it was not just about giving the community centre a facelift. Garrett, who has been with the company for the last 10 years and saw it through to plc status, explains: ‘This is a great day for getting to know a load more people in the company. We have hot-desking so the work environment is conducive to meeting new people in other departments anyway. But a day like this is perfect for meeting and chatting to other people in the company.’
Rupert Howell, founding partner and chairman of HHCL, says: ‘This is just the kind of collaborative challenge that we love. We once put on a pantomime for a group of pensioners in Brighton, which was great fun and very rewarding. This idea is even better because with a bit of luck it will provide an enduring benefit for the community. Ground Force meets Changing Rooms with all the enthusiasm and, hopefully, some of the talent.’
‘And there is also the feel-good factor,’ says finance team colleague, Bill Hudson.
Garrett was fortunate enough to find his ideal job at HHCL following his training with KPMG, which ended in July 1989. Garrett, whose job for the away day was ‘the shifter of bits and bobs’ and Hudson, who was responsible for window-frame painting, even turned their hand to sewing much to the delight of fellow workers.
Commenting on HHCL’s work at the community centre, CSV’s Precht, says: ‘CSV employee volunteering had the pleasure of sourcing and facilitating the HHCL team task at the community centre.
‘As a delivery agent for a range of employer volunteer programmes, I was impressed by the contribution the agency made, not only providing 1,000 hours of volunteer energy but matching that with substantial in-kind donations from pianos and toys to a new television and professional mural design.
‘The quotes I received from volunteers after the day highlighted genuine enthusiasm behind celebrating their company’s anniversary through quality time spent improving the lives of others.’
It was the theme running through the team that day and highlighted by FD Garrett. ‘Today has given us all a sense of achievement and explains what makes HHCL good; collaboration and team work, even for the finance team.’
WHAT IS CSV?
Community Service Volunteers is a registered charity dedicated to giving individuals and groups to play an active part in their community.
Volunteering opportunities at CSV include an initiative, titled ‘Get out in the city’, which offers alternative volunteering activities for people in London and Manchester. Activities take place one Saturday in every month.
CSV promises a fun day and a great way to meet new people, get dirty and make a positive difference to your city. Past events include:
– Helping to paint and renovate a special school
– Cultivating a garden and transforming flower beds for asylum seekers at a shelter
– Collecting tonnes of rubbish to clean up and clear a river bank
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