Shaper: Mark Allen

Show aired on 30th April 2016


Mark read social studies at Durham University and, having spent a gap year working in a London remand home and assessment centre for youth offenders, originally wanted to become a social worker. At university, he founded and became the chairman of a voluntary group providing support for vulnerable people, including psychiatric patients, however increasingly became interested in writing and decided to become a journalist instead.

Mark worked for three years at The Sheffield Star, before moving to the Daily Express in Manchester – then a broadsheet newspaper selling four million copies – as first an investigatory reporter and then as a sub-editor on the news and features desks. His interest in journalism and social policy coincided when he was appointed the launch editor of Reed Business Press’ Community Care. The magazine became one of Reed’s most successful publications.

Mark’s next appointment was as editor of Nursing Mirror, which he revamped. In one year, Nursing Mirror won three Professional Publishing Association (PPA) awards. Mark became the Editor of the Year at the same time as Nursing Mirror won the Magazine of the Year and the Campaign of the Year awards.

A move into publishing management followed, first with Reed and then with Thomson, the former owners of the Times newspaper, where Mark was asked to set up a healthcare publishing division for the company. However, after little more than a year, Thomson decided that healthcare publishing was not for them. Having never previously considered becoming an entrepreneur, Mark bought two of the medical titles and set up his own business. When his bank turned down a request for £10,000, he decided to try and convert one of the magazines, a journal circulated to 35,000 hospital doctors, into a subscription-only publication. This proved a success and provided him with enough money to survive and develop his company. He persuaded 7,200 doctors to subscribe at a rate of £32.50, generating more than £234,000.

During the last few years the Mark Allen Group has expanded rapidly. Today the group is involved in publishing and communications in four principal areas: health care, education, consumer and business-to-business. The company publishes 62 magazines, including three music magazines – Jazzwise, Gramophone and Songlines. It also organises conferences, exhibitions and travel tours. Altogether it employs 275 staff with offices in Herne Hill, Dartford, Paddock Wood, Guildford and Wiltshire.

Last year the group had a turnover of £27.5 million and made net profits of £3.2 million. It was listed in the Sunday Times Profit Track 100 ‘Ones to Recognise’ category. This year, up to March 2016, it will go one step further with a turnover of £32 million and will make £4 million net profits.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“It was a job that I turned down about three different times because I really didn’t trust them at the time as a company.”

…overnight, out of frustration, annoyance, I became an entrepreneur.”

“For the first ten years or so of having the business I always felt I was on the back foot because I started out with no money.”

“The second year proved to be a disaster because I thought I could walk on water and that’s always a very dangerous thing to believe.”

“We won damages, but we lost the commercial war.”

“Lots of people would probably say that we’ve got our eggs in far too many baskets.”

“I don’t feel young at times, but I have still got a lot of energy and passion.”

“I think in business it’s important to have a hinterland, and I would like to believe I have a hinterland.”