Marina Hall, Head of Finance & Legal Affairs at leading London PR agency PHA Media, a company she set up with her husband in 2005.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role.
I graduated from Cambridge with a degree in Natural Sciences, qualifying shortly after as a Chartered Patent Attorney and European Patent Attorney, before coming a partner in a London-based private practise working in genetics and biochemistry.
At the time (in the early 1990s), the sequencing of the human genetic code was a major potential media breakthrough and the protection of inventions related to this area was particularly controversial and new. I moved in house as a Patent Attorney for Reckitt Benckiser working mainly on acquisitions and mergers and new technologies in their health care division.
About 11 years ago I decided to have a complete career change and a fresh challenge and joined forces with my husband, Phil Hall, to set up and run our PR agency, PHA Media.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I knew I wanted to be in a professional environment so after graduating in pharmacology and being really interested in the law and intellectual challenges, training to become a patent attorney seemed a great path to follow. I also didn’t quite want to give up studying so at that stage in my life everything fell together nicely.
Did I plan on setting up a business in PR with my husband? No! But I love the fact that this opportunity came along, it’s been a rollercoaster at times but an amazing experience. Sometimes it’s good to be versatile and embrace what life offers you.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Children! I went back to work full time after my first daughter was born but have benefited hugely from the flexibility that running your own business brings. Now that the business is established and we have superbly talented people working with us, I am able to work from home as well as in the office which is a really nice balance.
In the early days though, setting up and establishing the business, it was a relentless time. In school holidays I’d often get up at 4am and do several hours work before anyone else needed me! Having a third child in my 40’s was certainly an experience!
On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?
It starts and ends with emails and organising school bags in equal measure! I manage some of the internal operations like HR, office and finance and thus I have many meetings with our managers. I also help drive strategy so putting aside thinking time is really important for the continued success of the business.
Tell us a little bit about your role and how did that come about?
My husband Phil Hall and I started a PR agency from our spare bedroom 11 years ago. We now have over 70 staff and two other partners – Mark Gregory and Simon Dolan. My role is to help form strategy and guide the finance, legal and HR functions.
Phil is a former journalist, so it made so much more sense in the early days and even now that he concentrated on what he does best – representing our clients – and I concentrated on setting up the business. The fact we work on different aspects is a really positive combination, at home and at work.
Have you ever had a mentor or a sponsor or anyone who has helped your career?
Yes, my mum and dad. They taught me early on to question everything, take a broad interest in the world and own your own dreams.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
Equality across all workplaces for sure, but also a zero tolerance to sexist comments and behaviour. It’s staggering in today’s world this still happens, it’s demeaning, not banter and shouldn’t happen in any environment.
If you were to look back in five years, what would you see in terms of your achievements?
To have watched young staff develop into great leaders helped by all the work we put into training and the faith we have shown in them. This has been the most enjoyable and satisfying aspect of building a business, and our approach to our staff is something I am most proud of and never let up on. We are constantly making new investments in our people and always focused on their development and careers.
Tell us about your plans for the future?
To see the company grow, flourish and mature… and watch my three children do the same. If I can manage that I will be truly satisfied!