It was a damp December morning in 2007 when I arrived at the Water Street office of Downtown Liverpool in Business. I had met McKenna just once, months before at a testimonial dinner at Goodison Park! I was a fledgling business man who had just lost two pretty substantial contracts due to “budget cutbacks”. The future didn’t look so good.
I networked like never before and I would go to the opening of a burger van at the time. One evening, quite worse for wear, at a late night cheese & wine event in the Met Quarter, someone mentioned to me that Downtown was looking for an events manager and the rest is history. The twenty minute interview turned into an hour and a half, and by the end of it McKenna and me were sank down in our chairs, chatting rubbish. “I’ll let you know in the next day or two” he said. twenty minutes after I had left the office, I got the call.
The office was compact and bijou and the lingering aroma of sump oil added to its character. Frank’s ego took up much of the space, leaving little room for the other four of us. I settled in pretty quickly and got to grips understanding Frank’s ambitious dreams. The staff turnover in the early years was quite high. We were very much in the public eye and poaching was rife. It was sad to see some go, and occasionally a relief.
Liverpool was our playground and Preston, initially I guess, an experiment to understand whether what Downtown did was transferable to other cities. Preston adopted us and we rapidly grew. Growth was exciting and part of the master plan. McKenna was hands on, and didn’t just sit in his underground lair stroking his pussy in his mono rail. New team members joined us and Manchester was in our sights.
The day Sir Howard Bernstein stood on the stage at Cloud 23 and welcomed us to Manchester in front of 150 people (we had turned 140 away), was a special moment. He understood Downtown and made bloody sure everybody else did.
Leeds is now starting to shape up nicely and our own growth plans are no less ambitious. We have stuck to what we do best and surrounded ourselves with people who have skills that we don’t. We have gone from five to thirteen and that will do for now, until we take that ambitious leap again!
McKenna’s not a bad old stick really. He occasionally gets right up my nose, but I know I get up his sometimes. That’s how we work I guess; we have bred a culture of ‘draw a line and get on with it’ and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Congratulations to everyone who over the years that has helped Downtown to grow, especially to you McKenna. Love you dearly… mostly!