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In Memoriam: Kevin Hand 1951-2016

Former PPA Chairman Kevin Hand died last week after a short illness. Barry McIlheney, CEO of the PPA, pays tribute.

By Barry McIlheney

Kevin Hand was one of the leading figures in UK magazine media, having run both emap and Hachette Filipacchi UK, and served as Vice-President of the European Magazine Media Association (EMMA) and as a Board member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

Barry McIlheney writes: “I can still vividly recall my very first encounter with Kevin Hand.

It was 1986 and I had just joined the fast-rising emap as the freshly-minted Editor of Smash Hits, the million-selling pop jewel in the crown. Kevin Hand was my boss's boss and had made an unexpected appearance from company HQ in Peterborough at one of my very first Planning Meetings, presumably partly to check that his chief lieutenants in London had not taken compete leave of their senses in entrusting the keys to the kingdom to a 26-year-old not long off the boat from Belfast.

At some point in the meeting, I was asked what I thought about something or other. I immediately did that thing you do when you have no idea what you think, which is to talk about what the rest of the staff think and what the readers think. After all, we had only just got the results back from a one-page in-mag survey and there was some fascinating stuff in there for sure.

This desperate flanneling was suddenly interrupted by a voice I was to become all too familiar with over the next 30 years. "I don't give a monkey's what they think," said Kevin Hand. "I want to know what you think". I muttered something about more pictures and fewer words, that sort of thing. He looked at me, beamed that big smile of his, and told me to crack on with it then and to let him know what I needed him to do to help us win.

Have an opinion and a plan

That little vignette pretty much sums up what Kevin was like to work for. He had no time for wafflers - never bullshit a bullshitter was one of his many mantras - and he always wanted you to have an opinion and a plan of action. It almost mattered less if this opinion and plan turned out to be right or wrong, what mattered was that you went at it with a ferocious passion and a violent energy, and that you always led the troops from the front. And, above all else, that you won. The annual emap management conference would invariably end with a rallying call from the leader to his trusted battalions, and it would always end with him delivering what became the unofficial company motto. Namely that it was not just enough just to win, the other fella had to - always - lose badly.

Intoxicating stuff

If you worked for him, this was heady, intoxicating stuff. Combine this with that rare gift that he had - call it charisma or charm or just leadership - where he could get people to do anything for him simply because they wanted to please him, and it became an unbeatable winning formula that saw this former Peterborough-based local newspaper group become one of the true powerhouses of UK magazine publishing.

Throughout this period, Kevin developed a set of catchphrases that are forever embedded in the minds of all who worked for him. The beatings shall continue until morale improves. We have got our tanks parked on their lawn. You don't get a dog and bark yourself. That issue is so full of ads it could choke a donkey. You've got the wrong dog in the wrong box with that fella. You've always got to put in the hard yakka. And let's see who's laughing when it comes to the hey-boy-hey. If at times it felt more like military service than magazine publishing, it also felt more like a mad caper than a proper job, and for most of the people who were at the very heart of it, it would remain a defining experience for the rest of their days.

If, however, you were on the receiving end of this naked aggression, it was clearly a less edifying experience altogether. Kevin was under no illusions about this, in fact he seemed to enjoy nothing more than a good scrap, and he would know only too well that he was a divisive figure throughout his career, albeit one who had used his time as PPA Chairman as recently as 2012/2013 to rebuild a good number of the bridges he had destroyed with such force over the last 35 years. Indeed, one of the more heartwarming experiences of these last few difficult days has been the reaction of his old adversaries, coming together as one to say how much they had respected him as the toughest of competitors, and how sad they are to see the old warrior leave the battlefield once and for all.

I worked for Kevin for most of the last 30 years, first at emap UK, then at the emap French division that he had created pretty much from scratch in the '90s, and then finally of course these last few years when we got the band together one more time as he took on the reins of PPA Chairman. We tended to see little of each other outside of work, and in many ways he was the most private of men, never happier than when leading from the front at work, but also at his most truly content when with his devoted wife Fiona, his four daughters, and his five grandchildren. I think I got to know him well over such a long time, however, and am able to form a clear-eyed view of his many outstanding qualities and what he himself would have listed as areas to work on big lad.


On the plus side he was whip-smart, funny, loyal to the point of near-tribalism, a brilliant communicator and leader, and, in the words of his close friend and colleague Malcolm Gough, he had a heart like a lion. He also had that unique quality of making you believe that you could do great things even when you didn't really believe it yourself. If he liked you, and he thought that you were a fighter doing everything you could to help the team win, then he would defend you to the hilt, making you feel like one of the chosen few. As a result, if he then asked you to go the extra mile, you would run through a concrete wall just to keep him happy. He was also an early adopter of equal opportunities, though those words would have appalled him, promoting women to the most senior positions wherever he worked, be it Sue Hawken at emap, Abbie Greene in France, or, most recently, Anna Jones at Hearst.

Gruff, abrasive and downright rude

On the other side of the ledger, he could be gruff, abrasive, and downright rude. He did not suffer fools at all, never mind gladly. And, when it came to his language, particularly with regard to the opposite sex, Kevin was inappropriate before that ghastly word even entered common parlance. That woman over there, whom he had just promoted to Managing Director ahead of a whole load of older men, was always "a smashing bird". Sam Baker, no shrinking violet she, told me at the weekend of her first encounter with Kevin within just a few weeks of her joining Hachette Filipacchi UK as the newly-appointed Editor of Red. It was at the PPA Awards, and the Hachette table consisted of Kevin and his nine female glossy Editors, all of whom had, as Kevin would have put it, scrubbed up particularly well. Just as the show was about to begin, Kevin asked them to raise a glass, and proudly surveyed the scene in front of him. "I'll tell you one thing about Hachette," he announced. "We do not employ mingers".

How you react to that particular story is as good a guide as any as to whether you would have been on Team Kevin, or whether he would perhaps not quite have been your cup of tea. He wouldn't really have cared either way, which was what made him both so likeable and so infuriating at times. I was a fully paid-up member of Team Kevin - how could that boy from Belfast ever become anything else - but I also knew him long enough and well enough to know that any attempt at canonisation will rightly fall down at the first hurdle. He came from the school that they knocked down to build the old school, and he was the type of big, swaggering, borderline belligerent character that our industry now sees a whole lot less of. These sort of tributes normally end up with the words rest in peace, but somehow they don't seem quite right for a man like Kevin Hand. So perhaps the best tribute we as an industry can pay to this former PPA Chairman is to try to keep on winning. And to make sure that the other fella - always - loses badly.”

A memorial service for Kevin Hand will take place later this year.

This article was first published on the PPA website.