Saturday, May 26, 2012

My mate #18 - Frank McKenna

Me, Derek Hatton and Frank McKenna at Goodison Park
A random shuffle of my address book to find a random friend to profile has suggested Frank McKenna, the man behind Downtown in Business, the business networking club.

I've known Frank for about 12 years, he came through a very tough period where a spurious charge over a leaflet bill led to the early termination of his political career. He was a capable and visionary leader of Lancashire County Council. His practical brand of Labour politics was the first manifestation of New Labour in action and an important part of the development of that project. Tony Wilson put me on to him and suggested we would get on and enjoy each other's company.

He fought off the charges and embarked upon a different career - using his political brain and an urgency for change and improvement, especially in Liverpool. It led to the formation of Downtown Liverpool, a completely different kind of business organisation. I described it as "the Chamber with hair gel", which he took in good part and referred to it in a piece about male grooming here.

In that time the dinners have been glamorous and lively. The private events and the breakfast debates have been very cerebral and have included a high level of political engagement. Though a New Labour northerner, Frank has always kept a dialogue open with other parties, something I've always been impressed by.  He gets a lot of stick, but as well as being well manicured, he's also developed a fairly thick skin too.

Over the years I've always enjoyed collaborating with Frank. We have had many chats that helped one another form views on policy and strategy (and football). And whatever it is we talk about, or whoever we talk about, our chats are always fun. I like his turn of phrase and empathetic style, whether that is over lunch, coffee, over the microphone on his radio programme on CityTalk FM in Liverpool, or at Everton v Blackburn Rovers games, where we were photographed for the picture above with Derek Hatton in there somewhere.

He is a remarkably open and straight forward kind of bloke, who has been generous with his advice and personal support too; just as he has been loyally supported by a close coterie of friends and business contacts. He's also managed to stay friends with Tracey, his former wife, and is a really good and supportive Dad too.

He's moved Downtown into Lancashire and Manchester too, with plans to expand in other cities. It's a good idea - because the need for business advocacy has never been greater.

I am drawn to people who want to do things differently and who command respect through their deeds and actions. Frank is one such person and I'm proud to count him as a pal.

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