Mark Evans: Where The Grass Is Greener

After 10 years in the top job for all things Customer and Marketing at Direct Line Group, Mark Evans set out for pastures new at the beginning of 2023. 18 months on and he’s never been happier across a wide range of coaching, trustee, advisory and NED roles. Ranging from charities, to government, to sport, to Marketing industry bodies, to the commercial sector, Mark describes his portfolio as a “fruit salad” which allows him to have more fun, more learning and to help more people. 

LGC: Mark – you’re a man with many strings to your bow. I am aware of your association with The Marketing Society, your popular marketing and business podcast: The Places We’ll Go Show (co-hosted with Richie Mehta). What advice might you have for senior marketers taking the plunge – what steps should they take to give them the best platform for the next stage in their career?

Mark Evans: Broadly I would have 3 pieces of advice. 

Firstly, to plan it. In reality I made the decision in 2018 that I would like to make the role I was in the last exec role I did. I was fairly explicit about that which meant that I could think about some of the skills and experiences that would benefit me. In this way I had already accumulated a few external roles by the time I exited and it didn’t feel as much of a jump off a cliff as it might otherwise have done. 

Secondly, there is an element of ego transition required. If we all acknowledge that we have an ego, since that’s what makes us human after all, and that our egos need stroking, the implication is that we need to accept that we will need to find something other than corporate trappings and status to do so. Clearly this is in the space of purpose and “why” and I believe it is a very deliberate choice to identify what will give you validation. 

And finally, to get networking since many, if not most, advisory/non-exec roles come more via serendipity than anything that is publicly advertised. 

Mark and co-host Richie Mehta interview Seth Godin, guest on: ‘The Places We’ll Go‘.

LGC: How did your career prepare you for working with a myriad of different clients at the same time?

ME: I had already managed to inject quite a bit of variety into my work, not least through the podcast that I co-host – The Places We’ll Go show where we interview amazingly successful people across all walks of industry and life including Paul Polman, Rory Sutherland and Sir Clive Woodward. I draw such rich learning from this that I can re-apply elsewhere. Similarly being on the Board of the Marketing Society has helped me to have a broader perspective. In general I’ve sought, and encouraged people in my team, to pursue side hustles because there is so much learning but also I believe that it makes you better in your core role. 

But the overriding point is that the skills that we develop through our careers, which we might take for granted, are incredibly valuable in many other contexts. All the wins and breakthroughs, as well as the scars and blind alleys, are directly relevant far and wide. Hence the preparation is implicit but many people do not realise that what’s blindingly obvious to them (by virtue of having been there done that) is blind to many others (simply because they haven’t).

LGC: Many senior marketers are nervous about making “the leap” – senior marketing roles often come with a level of security and benefits – what are the positives, now you are working as self-employed?

ME: I am loving the freedom and flexibility. I’m still happy to work at 80-90% of the velocity of before (because there are so many fun things to do) but with a fraction of the stress and frustration. Yes there is an element of ambiguity and uncertainty around creating your own path, but that is more than offset by the opportunity for learning, growth and impact. 

Talking practically I need to be organised since that is what enables me to not blow up my diary whilst seeking as much diversity as possible. There isn’t really a typical week but broadly I seek a 50/50 mix across working from home and going into London to mirror broader hybrid working trends. In general, I like the slightly nomadic nature of it since it never feels even remotely stagnant. 

LGC: Some senior marketers find themselves without a role – and this wasn’t part of their plan – what advice might you give them in terms of considering whether they head “back into the machine” and seek another full-time role or go solo and become a consultant or coach?

ME: In general if people feel that they still have one more big role in them then they should probably do that so as to not have any regrets. That said you can start to nurture that future self by seeking mentoring, advisory or NED roles in parallel so that it’s not a hard cut across when the right time comes. Think of it as try before you buy.

If I give a couple of examples, as an Independent Advisor to HMRC’s Customer Experience Committee I learnt about a completely different world but also augmented my breadth of knowledge around customer transformation. Similarly, as a NED to Emma3D (a digital twin SaaS platform) I learnt about scaling and a more entrepreneurial approach. All of these opportunities provide an opportunity to give and get in equal measure and help to make you a more useful, interesting and valuable person.

LGC: What’s coming up for you in 2024-25?

ME: Having said ‘yes’ to pretty much everything in 2023 this year I have set no goals. I realised that setting goals that you can beat yourself up with is a part of what I am trying to let go of. Hence I’m not planning for any additional roles beyond what I currently have and I am going to try to just enjoy it and be consciously grateful for what I have rather than yearn for bigger achievements. 

What I am excited about is continuing to get better as a coach. I love to supercharge senior marketers – helping them to have their cake and eat it (to become even more successful AND even more – rather than less – fulfilled). This is probably the single most gratifying thing that I do now in terms of seeing people develop a better appreciation of their innate skills and inner fire. 

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