Newsmaker: Fighting the fat of the land - Peter Hollins, Director-general, British Heart Foundation

Dominic Wood

Peter Hollins plans to spend the next decade as director-general of the British Heart Foundation, to take him to "the witching age of 65".

He hopes to then be able to look back on a successful corporate career, topped off by eight years shaping one of Britain's best-loved charities into "one by which others judge their success". Hollins, whose tenure began last November, says: "I want us to be the most professionally run charity because I'm enormously excited to be playing for the first team."

He should know. After 30 years in the private sector, Hollins is used to playing for, and often managing, some of the best top-division firms, including some household-name multinationals. "I've been very lucky in my career because I've run businesses that have been highly successful as well as those that have had their backs to the wall," says Hollins, whose career was built on marketing products for almost 20 years at ICI.

Given his penchant for the big league, it comes as no great surprise when he declares his loyalty for unbeaten champions Arsenal.

Back on the bench at the foundation, Hollins wants to crank up the income of £83.5m to beyond £100m "very quickly".

"The foundation is putting more resources into fundraising than we have in the past," says Hollins. "I want us to become the best in terms of how efficient we are in getting money and converting that into useful projects."

Part of this regime will focus on becoming better at attracting and maintaining supporters. "I want very slick and competent fundraising activities. We are certainly putting a lot more effort into getting high-value donors and being more sophisticated in thanking one-off donors."

Such sophistication is apparent in how the foundation is milking the cash cow of its 1,000-strong London Marathon running team. It has created a 'running events' fundraising department that is aiming to generate £1m per year by encouraging runners to sign up for other events such as the Flora Light Challenge and the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge.

Another of Hollins' initiatives at the charity was to sanction one the most shocking and unforgettable ads of recent years. Renowned for funding research into heart disease, the charity took the unusual step of accepting a £4m state handout to run the powerful 'Give Up Before You Clog Up' anti-smoking campaign. You probably know it -a recent survey showed that the 'dripping fat' ads had stuck in the minds of 92 per cent of us.

It received 109 complaints, none of which were upheld, but with that level of recall, it is not surprising to hear the director-general ooze praise for it.

"In situations like these, you've really got to bring things to people's attention in a forceful way without being gratuitous. I think we stayed the right side of the line and when I first saw the format, I had no hesitation whatsoever about going ahead with it.

"The objective is to show people they have got a problem and that we want to help. The complaints were mainly from people put off their cornflakes, and centred around the ads being pretty disgusting - which I'd say was justified by the context.

"The signs are from our research that we have contributed to helping people stop smoking. If those ads saved just one life, doesn't that justify putting some people off their breakfast?"

His impassioned defence of the campaign is almost convincing, but for a sanitised version of the poster framed on the wall beside his desk.

Hollins admits the image isn't the 'full-fat' poster he spent the past 10 minutes purring about, because he "didn't want to sit and look at that all day".

Hollins clearly views the campaign as a good example of shock advertising.

And so presumably does the Government, which last month gave a further £1m for the charity to run a scaled-down variant of the ad featuring a man, persuaded to quit because of the original ads.

The organisation typically spends around £50m on research, and Hollins is adamant that the new activities of education and care will never compromise that. "I don't see this charity ever leaving its roots of funding high-quality research," he insists. Rather, as the charity enhances its fundraising efforts, more of the additional money will be diverted into education and care. Last week, the foundation launched its biggest ever campaign to persuade people to lead healthier lifestyles, and this too has a fundraising component.

As part of its search for new funding sources, the charity, that in the past gave statutory funding a wide berth, has accepted some sizeable government gifts of late. The New Opportunities Fund awarded £18.6m for three major foundation projects, all of which are now in progress. The money funds the provision of defibrilators and training for people to use them (£4.5m), a network of heart-failure nurses (£9.4m), and a series of rehabilitation information centres to help people with heart disease lead more fulfilling lives (£4.7m).

"It shows how innovative we have been," says Hollins. He attributes the availability of the funding down to the growing harmony between the charity and government. "That the Department of Health has been prepared to fund us says something about the way we have become agenda setters. We have had a very catalytic effect on government policy in regard to heart disease."

His arrival at the foundation was partly prompted by his father's death from a heart attack, when Hollins was 12. He says he watched him die after a life spent "smoking and drinking for England". He was powerless to save his father, but four decades on, he is determined to do everything he can to help prevent or ease the suffering of millions of others.


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