'He's calm under pressure'

I Work For... Linda Kinghorn works for David Mackay, chief executive of John Menzies plc
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The Independent Online

I joined John Menzies in August 1977, when it was a very different company. I thought of it as a group of high street shops, but I quickly learned how important the distribution wing was.

I joined John Menzies in August 1977, when it was a very different company. I thought of it as a group of high street shops, but I quickly learned how important the distribution wing was.

The delivery of what we call the "nightly miracle", ensuring that newspapers and magazines reach their outlets in time, has always been crucial. Menzies have the monopoly for Scotland and parts of England, and if you are awake and up between four and six, you will see our vans nipping around on their delivery run, every day except Christmas.

In the Seventies, the company was steeped in tradition. I had come from a US company with informal ways. We were in an old building, with large desks, velvet window curtains, metal-grate lifts with an operator and a receptionist in an ornate wooden and glass booth. It was a family business, run by the Menzies family since 1833. The final Menzies to run the company, another John and the last male in the family line, retired in 1997.

Since David started here 36 years ago, there have been many changes and we are constantly expanding. In May 1998 he sold the Menzies stores to WH Smith and we were reclassified on the FTSE as a distribution company. We also acquired Early Learning, Total Home Entertainment, including Nintendo and Menzies Transport Services, now renamed as Menzies Aviation Group, which does behind-the-scenes ground services at airports, from baggage handling to cleaning snow off a plane's cockpit windows. The other day we bought Ogden Ground Services and I've now got a big list of new aviation contacts from the Ogden Integration team, which means I increasingly liaise with representatives abroad.

It feels great to move with the times, and to see the company able to offer fantastic opportunities to high-flyers, still under the guidance of their canny Scots seniors.

When I met David all those years ago, he was being groomed for the top. Despite being very friendly and popular he has a definite presence. His regime has been a breath of fresh air. He was clearly ambitious and dynamic and I know he found some of the old hierarchies stuffy. Although he had to fit in, he was earmarking areas for change. I was surprised when he asked me to call him by his first name. That wasn't something I was used to here.

David's a brave character and although I'm sure there are times when he must be freaking out, he always appears calm. Woe betide anyone whose tried to take advantage of his generous nature - he's no soft touch.

He's determined and has a lot of stamina, realistic and proud of being Scottish. He will always don his kilt or tartan trews at a suitable occasion. Hello! magazine once sent him a mock-up of an issue with him on the cover dressed in his tartans in front of his "Highland Hideaway" and for his last birthday his wife gave him a picture of a child in a kilt against a grey sky with the caption "The real Mackay". I've worked for him for 15 years and my job has evolved. I now read and mark up the trade journals, knowing what interests him.

I also gather relevant material and draft speeches for him, including adding the odd risqué joke - I'm known for my liking for blue humour.

He is very appreciative and never leaves the office without thanking me for my help. It can get lonely at the top and I like to think I can now say more or less anything to him. We chat more than we did and he often laughs at my jokes.

I think he's grateful I'm there to deal with some of the work when he returns after a busy meeting. He has a fine sense of humour and a love of English and Latin, referring for example, to someone being hors de combat, meaning "off sick". He likes to use difficult words which send one running for the dictionary and he has a lot of catchphrases, including "all things being equal", and some of his sayings have rubbed off on me. He's been a good mentor and he's given my career a fantastic boost.

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