It all started in the sixth form where I flunked out of A-levels in order to start a business building sound equipment. Some people who had a business making professional tape recorders saw a mixing desk I built and said: "Why don't you come to the German Trade Fair and you can exhibit with us?" So I just did it - I stepped off the conveyor belt.
For several years I designed, made and sold mixing consoles from a little factory up in Tufnell Park, North London. This was the back end of the sixties and no-one really seemed to worry about "career paths". I learned a huge amount about people and business but by the early Seventies I was beginning to miss not having had my sojourn in academia so I read a lot of books, mainly history and economics. It seemed relatively easy to pass a few A-levels on the back of this, and I managed to get a place at the LSE.
I had three great years studying "analytical economics" and was almost seduced into doing a masters and then a PhD. But I decided to be very responsible and become an accountant with KPMG. Genuinely nice people, but I thought: "Do I want to be a finance director in a client company?" A very typical progression but not for me, so after a year I plunged back into business, this time with a partner, running a company that imported and marketed all sorts of US hi-tech wizardry for recording and broadcasting.
We spent lots of time in the US working on new product brainstorms and devising ad campaigns for some of our suppliers. This was what really turned me on to marketing and design. My feelings were crystallized when I saw a documentary about Wolff Olins, one of the biggest names in corporate communications - most of us barely knew firms like this existed.
At the same time I had become interested in the MBA programme at London Business School which had modules on design and marketing. So I spent about two years doing an MBA while continuing to run our marketing business. At the end of it I knew I wanted to be part of the design and marketing world and so joined Wolff Olins as joint MD. I left after a year having learned that it's very difficult being a joint managing director - there's a managing director, and that's it.
While at Wolff Olins I had met the then MD of Fitch PLC, Ian Cochrane, who introduced me to Rodney Fitch, who I felt was really trying to get design taken seriously and actually change the world. This sounds very Eighties, but we truly believed it. A lot of design and media businesses were growing rapidly and had a seat around the top table alongside strategists and chief executives. I joined Fitch and spent lots of time in the US integrating its acquisition of a large US design group and creating a corporate identity business and a European network. Unfortunately, the 80s screeched to a halt for design when property development and retail virtually stopped. The Fitch team fell apart and I became a freelance consultant.
While doing this I came into contact with Design Bridge, founded in 1986 by a breakaway group from Addison, another quoted design group. I was invited to join their board, becoming chief executive in 1995. We are all passionate about brands and focus on design-led strategies to enhance brands in anything from soups and savouries to savings and investment.
Back in '92 we won the brief to create the Champions' League brand, which, at that time, was the European Cup. If you say "the Olympics", people know instantly what you're talking about, and Wimbledon is synonymous with tennis. They wanted to turn the Champions' League from a sporting fixture into a branded event. Now you see the star ball, the symbol we created for the Champions' League. Adidas were then looking for someone to design an instantly distinctive and marketable World Cup ball. We beat a French company and a few other agencies because we knew a lot about footballs and what you can put on them
To those thinking of getting into corporate design, you should try to gain the broadest possible perspective of the world and of the business world. If people come in just wanting a narrow set of skills in design or marketing or business, those will be very useful, but a lot of our clients like our depth of experience and, though it's a trite phrase, people who can "think out of the box".Reuse content