When we meet Mike Perls, CEO of strategic marketing agency MC2, the news that he’s made the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for an MBE for services to the community of Manchester has just been made public. 

Much deserved? Absolutely! Surprising? Not at all… 

This local change-maker’s relentless endeavours to improve the lives of the people of Manchester are an inspiration and his list of pro bono work is impressive.

Just a flavour of his current work reads like this: He is Chair of GreaterSport, whose remit is to get the entire Greater Manchester population active; Visiting Professor and board member at Manchester Metropolitan University, inspiring the country’s largest cohort of students from state schools and underprivileged communities; Trustee of the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s Charity, helping tackle homelessness; and Board Director of the Rugby League World Cup 2021, an event which will leave a lasting legacy in the city for future generations.

In a rare moment of downtime, we take the opportunity to talk to Mike about his early career and inspirations and, of course, the award, and to find out that while he may have been born in Kendal, he was truly made in Manchester…

Salutions: You’re a busy man, it’s hard to believe you have a ‘day job’ on top of all your charitable work!
really enjoy my role at MC2, but it’s intense – you constantly have to be on top of your game to keep up with the talented people that we have surrounded ourselves with in the agency. When I started the business back in 1999, I wanted to create a company that made a real difference to clients’ businesses and employed talented people who loved coming to work. Twenty years later, we are a ‘community of talent’ of more than 50 and one of the largest independents in the sector, dealing with cities and brands across the world.

Salutions: You were born in Kendal but now belong to Manchester. What led you here?
My family moved to Hale when I was two. I grew up there and went to Saint Ambrose College in Hale Barns. In 1986, I went to study English at the University of Ulster – right in the middle of the troubles – and after graduating, I secured a sales role at The Observer in London. It was an exciting time to be on Fleet Street. Out of the blue, I received a call asking me to move back to Manchester and head up the launch of the business pages at the Manchester Evening News

Salutions: The right move?
Mike: I never, ever expected to move back here, I thought I’d be in London for life, but I arrived back and moved into St. John’s Gardens in the city centre. It was a pretty unusual thing to do – at the time, there were only about 200 other people who lived in the centre, but those people – including Tony Wilson, Elliot Rashman, Peter Saville – were doing things. I watched them and thought ‘I can do that’ – I set up MC2 and never looked back. 

Salutions:You’ve cited Tony Wilson as one of your main inspirations in life?
Mike: Yes, absolutely, and he still inspires me to this day. Him and my mum. She landed in Old Trafford as a teenager from Athlone and almost stopped speaking for a year when her accent made it difficult for people to understand her. Despite this less than welcoming introduction to her adopted city, she started training as a nurse at 16 and qualified as a midwife. She spent over 40 years working for the NHS in the end and managed to do a degree and become a health visitor along the way. She would drag me over to Partington to paint people’s kitchens… she basically taught me to care.

Salutions: We think she taught you well!
Mike: Tony Wilson said,“you can make money, or you can make history.” I wanted to make a difference in the community, helping people and improving their life chances. It can’t be right that somebody born two miles away from where I’m sitting right now, has a life expectancy that’s 15 years less than me, can it? Where you’re born shouldn’t dictate what your life is like. Manchester is a really honest place but there are too many inequalities. There’s a lot of work to do.

Salutions: When you’re not visiting Number 10 or attending high-profile events, how do you like to unwind?
Spending time with my wife, Jenny, and children Conor, Rory, Finn and Tabby. I haven’t drunk for about 12 years, it was a dry January that just kept on going. I like to do physical challenges (Mike has completed an Ironman), particularly marathons, including one in the Arctic Circle last year. I’m currently training for the original Athens marathon in November. I also coach mini rugby at Bowdon.

Salutions: We hear you have an extended family of pets?
(laughs) I LOVE cats, we have two – Ronnie and Poggy – what can I say, the family are huge Man United fans! But I’m also a massive dog person, so we have Ruby, a miniature labradoodle, who is so popular around Didsbury! She’s the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever met. We’re really close and I like nothing more than walking with her along the river at Fletcher Moss.

Salutions: You now live in Didsbury – what are its best bits?
Mike: All of it. I totally love Didsbury. Why is it so fabulous? There’s a really eclectic mix of people living here with everyone doing really interesting stuff. Every conversation is different, it’s great. 

Salutions: Congratulations on your MBE. We weren’t at all surprised by the news, were you?
Mike: On our 16th wedding anniversary in May, my wife handed me an envelope and said she had got me a money-can’t-buy experience. I opened it with a bit of an eyeroll, as I thought it was going to be a parachute jump or a driving day. Needless to say, there were a few tears when I realised what it actually was. But even I wasn’t prepared for the response when it was officially announced in June and my phone went crazy! So many people had supported my nomination, it was overwhelming. When I sat my mum down in Altrincham Market and showed her the letter, I realised where the expression bursting with pride came from! My dad and older brother were equally as thrilled. I’m just waiting for confirmation of the date to go down to the palace, my wife has already picked out her dress!

Salutions: The award is for services to the community of Manchester’…
Mike: You can imagine what that means to me. That was the bit that got me. I am so, so pleased. If this award inspires one person to roll up their sleeves and try to make Manchester even better than it already is, then that’s my job done! 

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