Martin Kinsella - 1957-2016

by Craig Dearden-Phillips 26/08/2016

I was on holiday in France last week when word reached me that Martin had passed away following a three year fight with cancer. Despite all the pain and pressure he was under, he took the trouble to call me the week before his passing and although neither of us would say so, we both knew he was calling to say 'Goodbye'. This was Martin all over: stoical, mindful of others, unwilling to dwell on the negative. 

Martin was 59 when he died. I met him in 2007, as we were both anointed 'Ambassadors' for Social Enterprise in the last months of the Blair Government. In a crowded room full of a rather eclectic mix of movers, shakers, talkers and takers, Martin and I connected very quickly. 

Both of us were founder-CEOs of high growth organisations (his more then mine!). We found a lot in common. We shared fairly ordinary backgrounds. We both preferred doing to talking. And, perhaps more unusually, we shared a powerful scepticism of the traditional public sector which, we both agreed, was a barrier to real progress on many social issues.  

Martin was a bit older than me (by 12 years). He started P3 in his early-mid 40s following a number of jobs in the public sector where he felt stymied by in-built inertia. I also heard early on about his first career in table tennis - or 'ping pong' as he called it, where I am sure his competitive nature made him a formidable opponent.

When you know someone professionally you can rub along perfectly well without really getting to know them much as private people. This was, for the first few years, to be the case with Martin and I. There was respectful distance. As a slightly older CEO I found myself asking his advice and his views on matters of the day. I found Martin's commercial senses to be particularly well attuned. As I observed Martin, I noticed how intensely he went about his business, how focused he was on a small number of key things, how he played a very long game - and how fully he took his opportunities when they came.

Things progressed a level between us when I left my own CEO role. He kindly made a set of generous introductions that were critical to helping me set up Stepping Out. During this time he was incredibly encouraging of myself and the venture as he believed passionately in the potential of businesses liberated from the constraints of the public sector. He was fantastic and I will always be grateful to him for this. 

Martin's achievements as a CEO are well documented in proper detail elsewhere, notably on Mark's excellent piece on the P3 site. Many individual lives owe their improvement to things Martin did in his career. He really did make a colossal difference. 

Beyond the thousands of lives touched by Martin, I would characterise his achievement in three main ways. Firstly Martin built a sizeable, high-reputation social enterprise very quickly indeed, alongside his talented team at P3. Martin knew that being small as a care provider was no good and that having critical mass was essential to influence any market (social or otherwise). This was a big, driving insight - and one I wholly agree with.

Secondly, Martin grew his business in a way that wasn't a re-tread of an established method (which is the fastest way to grow any business), but instead challenged the status quo. His quest was to use the money on the table to change lives. Whether commissioners were on his page or not, Martin didn't wait to be told - he got on with it - and dared the grey suits to challenge the generally excellent results that followed.

Thirdly, Martin understood the people side of business unusually well. What goes on within businesses is about how people relate to their work and to each other. Within P3, Martin championed a participative and caring approach which was rewarded by staff who are flexible, trusting and positive in their approach. Beyond P3, Martin created a network of people - funders, commissioners, politicians - who believed in his business and its ability to go beyond the normal. 

So we have lost a key third sector leader. But what of the man himself? On our final call he implored me to continue to 'fight the good fight'. Martin believed that a much better world could be created by people who, like him, are willing to push hard enough, be sufficiently radical and to make their time on the planet count.   

I got to know Martin a lot better following his diagnosis about three years ago. We spoke on the phone fairly regularly and he was always incredibly positive about his treatment and his prospects. Even setbacks were met with outward vigour and positivity on his part. That he didn't feel ever doubtful or, at times, scared or lost I would be surprised. But he kept it together, always, whenever we spoke.   

During his illness Martin found many things to do, despite a heavy treatment schedule. He wrote. He studied. He kept up with P3. And, most importantly, he spent a ton of time with his kids and wife, all of whom were central to him.   

Latterly he became chairman of RISE CIC, a new public service mutual and I had the pleasure once again of working closely with him on something we both believed in.  

Gladly he also took time to keep up with me and my life. Very kindly he invited me to stay up in his house in the Peak District. I recall turning up after a fairly scary, dark drive through wind and hail to a warm welcome from his family and a fantastic, cosy log cabin in his garden he had set up for guests. 

In summary, Martin's life, meant many things to many people. As well as being a father and husband he created a new organisation that carries on today because of his founding actions. As an individual Martin had a wider influence on many who came into contact with him.

On this latter point I can only speak, truly, for  myself. From Martin I learned the importance of recreating the art of the possible, of being a force for change. I also learned how important it is to inspire others with a vision of this. And finally I learned the importance, at every juncture, of both courage and kindness. 

Courage and kindness will be two words always closely associated with Martin Kinsella. 

Rest in Peace.

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