Interview: Entrepreneur Mark Pearson on surrogacy, diversity and working with Gordon Ramsey
Successful online entrepreneur and star of Channel 4’s ‘Secret Millionaire’, Mark Pearson recently caught up with PinkNews to talk about his surrogacy experience in LA, being gay in a kitchen run by Gordon Ramsey and selling his business for £55m.
Now 34, Mark sold his company Markco Media for up to £55 million in June. In the years running up to this point he’d left behind his girlfriends in Liverpool and moved to London, becoming a Chef in Claridge’s then the founder of MyVoucherCodes and most recently the father of twins.
PN So tell us about your fiancé, how did you two meet?
MP I’ve been with my partner Aaron now for 5 years. We met on FitLads – does that even still exist? It was big at the time.
I had an office in Glasgow and had to travel a six hour journey and we just met for dinner. We went out in Soho and it was the clumsiest date I’d had in my life – more entertainment value than anything, but we just clicked.
At the time Aaron was a trainee accountant, until you asked him to work for you?
Which is the riskiest move you make in your life, but we get on and it’s weird relationship because we kind of have a work friendship where I talk to him differently – as an employee. I had to treat him like everyone else but luckily it just worked.
Mark tells of how he always wanted a big family, which led to he and Aaron reaching out to a Californian agency to have twins by surrogate. He described the surrogacy situation in the UK as “challenging”, but says he would have used a UK surrogate if it had been easier.
On working in Claridge’s – the kitchen eventually run by Gordon Ramsey – Pearson said he first discovered London’s gay scene when out in Soho with colleagues
I was 18 and I don’t know any other 18 year olds, so I ended up in Claridges kitchen and in the pastry department in particular there were a few obvious gay guys so we ended up on staff nights out – one night we went to G-A-Y and I was like “oh my God” because I didn’t know they type of places existed.
[Gordon Ramsey] is a bit like he is on TV. It’s a very aggressive industry being a chef as there’s a lot of time-sensitivity and high-pressure, deadlines so it’s a really tough industry. So whenever I go to a restaurant I think “I’m glad I’m not the other side of that door”.
You look up to someone that, who’s achieved something as he’s got all his restaurants and he’s on TV and it’s like wow you’re doing something, ‘how did you get there?’ And you read that he made that journey for himself. I like looking at real people who you can connect to and go “oh yeah I can see where you come from” and he just took the opportunities to get there. I love the passion, the slightly… obsession with everything being perfect.
How do you go about delivering diversity in your business now?
We’re great for diversity; half of it’s by accident and half of it is planned. I think it’s just more comfortable for people. I don’t outwardly say I’m gay in the office, I’ve never mentioned it but people just know…. “you do know Mark’s got a male partner and two kids?”
Which is just the way I like it rather than waving the flag from the rooftop. But over time I don’t know who, what and how, we’ve got a very diverse kind of culture here – multi-national, multi-orientation which is really nice.
I’ve never outwardly come out as gay because I’ve always had that fear that in a business deal you don’t want it to go against you secretly.
Mark nonetheless express how he still hopes to inspire gay entrepreneurs
I think it’s good [to be vocal about being gay] and I’m all for that – but in business I don’t know because if it’s a massive contract which is great for the business and me, but the whole team also benefit from it. Business isn’t run by one person, a decision is. So I’ve always just been cautious and still aim to be.
In the last couple of years things have really progressed and you’ve got big companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers who have sports team specifically for LGBT groups and it’s nice that people can get together and just feel they’re not the only one in the corporation. Big companies are jumping on it as an opportunity to be diverse and open-minded.
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After selling his businesses for up to £55 million, during the handover period he spends about three days a week there, and other time working on his latest ventures. He has contemplated charity work despite apprehensions about the sector
I’ve never been very charitable, because as a business man I always think – and this is a two way sensitive subject but this is my personal opinion – that all big charities wind me up because they cost so much to run and every pound you give, a certain amount goes to the charity itself.
I understand at the same time you need a team and CEOs but I just think if they’re so charitable, then why take the massive £200, £300k salary? That frustrates me, so when I did [Channel 4 show] ‘Secret Millionaire’, the purpose is to get to meet people on the ground who don’t get the spotlight.
That’s personal frustration versus people on the ground doing actual charitable stuff – helping homeless, helping children, helping victims of everything in between – that’s the stuff that really touches me.
Mark says to keep an eye out for his latest business venture which promises a shift away from discounts to something more shopping and mobile oriented.
Transcription by Anastasia Kyriacou.