As he reflects on the opportunities that life at Bedales gave him, Mark Hanson frequently returns to one key point. “The school bent over backwards to help me make the most of my education,” he remembers. “For example, I loved maths, chemistry and history, but it was pretty unheard of to study them as an A-Level combination. Bedales made it possible for me to do so. Similarly, you don’t necessarily associate the school with sporting prowess, but the facilities there were so extraordinary that you could do whatever you wanted. Obviously, there aren’t huge numbers of pupils, so playing for the school was easier, but there were great sports coaches there as well. I played in one soccer team that lost only one game all season, and our hockey teams were invariably pretty successful.”
So much did Mark enjoy the process of studying that he fitted in a stint at Delhi University to do history during his gap year, before going up to Cambridge to study the same subject. By this time, he had decided that the military and the diplomatic service were the careers that interested him most. “Well, I knew that the City held no appeal for me whatever,” Mark shudders. “Bedales had given me an interest in a wide world out there, and it was one of the school’s great charms that people there never seemed that worried about money.”
Mark’s interest in sport carried on to Cambridge and contributed substantially to making the army the first stage of his professional career. “I discovered the modern pentathlon at university, which has a great army pedigree as a sport,” he explains. Despite captaining Cambridge, the sport would take a back seat, as Mark made his way through the trials of Sandhurst and army life. “I’ve never been one for half-doing things, and the army was demanding my full commitment at that time. The first Gulf War happened and I was suddenly responsible for the welfare of about 100 people. To have the confidence of those people was a major thing in my life; it may have been a quick war, and we didn’t have a glorious role to play in it, but for a 26 year-old like me, it was a huge challenge, and it generated close bonds that have stood the test of time.”
Military service was to be followed by a spell in the diplomatic service. Here, Mark spent time at the British embassy in Tehran, where he had grown up as a boy. Great memories of happy times gone by and constant exposure to some of the great foreign policy issues of the day were balanced by slight frustration at an altered pace of life. “Things can move extremely slowly at the Foreign Office,” Mark agrees. “It was a fascinating time for me, but it was very different from the more decisive atmosphere that I’d known in the army.”
The time had come for Mark to apply the lessons learned in service of country and government to the commercial world. Management consultancy led to an opportunity to join Hakluyt & Co, the renowned British business intelligence company, which numbers some of the business and political world’s most notable figures among its boardroom advisors. Renowned for its discretion, Hakluyt has enjoyed sustained success, despite the economic storms of recent years, of which Mark is particularly proud. “As a business, I think we rather thrive on uncertainty,” he suggests. “The opening of new markets means that there is a thirst for better intelligence on them, but we have parts of the business that are both cyclical and counter-cyclical, from an economic point of view. Corporates are still making deals around the world, and I suspect that they always will.” There is no arguing with the results of a company that has experienced substantial year-on-year growth in recent times.
Alongside his commercial commitments of the past decade, Mark has had the opportunity to resume his long-standing connections with sport, first as a director of the Modern Pentathlon Association of Great Britain and latterly as a non-executive director at UK Sport. In the year of the London Olympics, it is a role in which Mark takes enormous pride. “I’m involved in the commercial strategy at UK sport, which basically involves sponsorship, as well as lending my experience of international policy,” he says. “At a time when there isn’t much cash swilling about, it’s quite a challenge, but it’s well worth it. This government, like the previous one, has realised the link between sporting success and national morale, and the UK’s sporting results of the past few years speak for themselves. At Beijing, our Olympic medal tally was the best for 100 years and I firmly believe that we’ll do even better in London.”
Mark is such an enthusiast that you want to believe him. He is keen that his future should involve still more projects to which he can devote his formidable energies. “Sports governance is just one area where I can try to be helpful,” he concludes. “I’ve been incredibly lucky in my schooling and my professional life; it’s now time for me to start giving things back.”
Mark was interview in February 2012 by James Fairweather.