Profile

Fitch’s global creative chief Tim Greenhalgh conforms to none of the usual designer stereotypes. As Trish Lorenz discovers, he is gregarious and unpretentious – and he loves public speaking and the art of selling

Designers come in two stripes: jewellery-wearing, tantrum- throwing creative geniuses, and diffident, inarticulate, virtually invisible creative geniuses. Tim Greenhalgh, who was promoted to chief creative officer at Fitch in January with responsibility for the organisation’s global creative output, confounds this theory by fitting neatly into neither category. Well over six foot tall and with a big frame, he exudes a Tiggerish enthusiasm and is gregarious, warm and self-effacing all in one.

His mother was an actor and his father a broadcast journalist, and Greenhalgh has inherited a love of the limelight. In particular, he says, he loves talking. ‘Talking is part of my personality,’ he says. ‘I can’t stand e-mail; you miss the intonation and tone of voice that is so important. I love presenting to clients and speaking at conferences, and I’m really good at it too. I defy anyone to do a better job.’

No surprise then, that selling ideas to clients is one of his favourite aspects of the job. ‘Lots of clients are taught not to take risks and aren’t in the habit of using their intuition. I get a buzz from preaching to the unconverted,’ he says.

Greenhalgh joined Fitch 21 years ago and, bar a six-year stint at the Conran Design Group almost ten years ago, has been with the group ever since. His new role sees him responsible for 15 creative directors across 19 offices. Greenhalgh sees his job as less about hands-on creative critique and more about ‘building a culture around what it means to design at Fitch’. And although a broad, global job can be isolating and removed from day-to-day creative fervour, Greenhalgh is calm about both.

‘I have never been that hooked on being “hands-on”. I am more interested in how we communicate and express ideas. I am not that conceited or that great as a creator that I need to stay totally involved. It’s always been about the team for me,’ he says.

Greenhalgh graduated from Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University) with a degree in furniture, jewellery, ceramics and glass-blowing – a background that seems more befitting a designer-maker than the creative head of a global commercial organisation. But it seems he’s left his designer-maker days firmly behind.

‘I’m too wrapped up in work to make things at the moment,’ he says, disapproving of designers who consider themselves artists. Design, he says, should own up to its business credentials.

‘Fitch is not an artisan company, it’s a commercial organisation,’ he says. ‘Advertising makes so much more money than design because the people that create ads are business people who understand the value they bring to clients. In our industry, we tend to consider ourselves as craftsmen and desperately want people to like us.’

If all this makes him sounds as though he’s a committed workaholic, think again. Married and with two young sons, Greenhalgh says he is ‘incredibly selfish about weekends’ and in favour of a sensible work-life balance. ‘We’re sometimes prone to be martyrs to work, but I don’t see any point in it,’ he says. ‘If I’ve been working hard and there’s an opportunity to go home early and recharge with the kids, I take it.’

Greenhalgh seems genuinely lacking in pretension. On a recent visit to the Design Museum, he concluded that it was a ‘waste of space’. ‘It’s incredibly exclusive, lacks joy and is no fun at all,’ he says. And he gleefully tells me that his car, a stylish old Mercedes, cost £1000 on Ebay. It will be interesting to see how he translates this enthusiasm for life into a creative ethos that continues to drive forward a multinational design group.

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