HOW WE MET

MATTHEW SYMONDS AND ANDREAS WHITTAM SMITH
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The Independent Culture
Matthew Symonds, 43, worked at the Mirror group, at the Financial Times and at the Daily Telegraph before co-founding the Independent 10 years ago. Now Director of Strategy at BBC Worldwide TV, he lives with his wife and three children in south-west London. Andreas Whittam Smith, 59, began working on the Stock Exchange Gazette. He co-founded the Independent and edited the paper from 1986-94. Now chairman of an electronic publishing company, he lives with his wife in west London

MATTHEW SYMONDS: I first met Andreas in November 1981 when I joined the Daily Telegraph as the economics leader-writer. Andreas was the City editor of the paper, so he invited me to have lunch at the Garrick before I joined, and although we had never met before, we realised that we had an extraordinarily shared view of the way the world worked. We were both economic liberals, which means that although we believe in the market, we also believe in individual liberty and freedom; and the only way in which you can find efficient and humane solutions to problems is to give people as much information and as much power over their own lives as possible.

When I met Andreas, I thought that he was self-confident, self-possessed. Our friendship developed because it sprang from an ideological identity; and as I was trying to bring about some changes of policy in the Daily Telegraph in some areas, it gave me strength to know that in his business and City columns Andreas would be arguing for the same sort of changes. The first thing we worked on together was a big study on unemployment. At that stage we were moving towards the 3 million unemployed mark, and it wasn't the kind of thing that the Telegraph normally did. But we both had a strong sense of achievement at the end of it.

The next thing we did together was to put forward a new management plan for the Telegraph, which was in a lot of trouble at that time. We both felt frustrated with the way the paper was being managed. Andreas and I took a business expansion scheme to the board. It was a kind of management buy-out, but it was rejected, and shortly after that the Telegraph began to talk to Conrad Black about coming in with a shareholding stake. When we were rebuffed, Andreas began to think about the alternatives. He phoned me and said there was something important he wanted to discuss with me. So we met at the Garrick on April Fool's Day 1985, and he told me that he wanted to launch a new broadsheet, and asked me to come in with him.

From April to September 1985 we developed the idea of the Independent, which gradually began to take off in 1986. The Independent was launched in October that year. We worked extremely closely together on what seemed like an extraordinary adventure, and we were extraordinarily successful in what we set out to achieve - we put a paper into the market which was competing with Rupert Murdoch.

The financial strain of the launch of the Independent on Sunday in 1990 and the recession put huge pressures on the organisation; we went from being probably over-praised for what we had done to facing carping and criticism. At times, we got on each other's nerves, but I've never shouted at Andreas, and he's never shouted at me.

We both found it hard to imagine what life at the Independent would be like without the other. We felt that it was a professional marriage. In fact, my wife was saying to me the other day that I worked so closely with Andreas that some of the time I would call her Andreas and I would call him Alison. He influenced me into believing that the way you can get the best out of other people is to have a light touch in managing people so that you allow their creativity full rein.

When we see each other now, he's incredibly refreshing to talk to; all his old entrepreneurial enthusiasm is being channelled into his CD-Rom publishing business. He's turned his house into a kind of software factory - on every floor, pony-tailed young men and women hammer away at PCs all day long. It feels like it did when we worked on the Independent before its launch; it's got the same buzz.

I don't think he's bitter about being ousted from the Independent in 1994; the thing that I love about him is that he's an optimist. His optimism is a key factor in why the Independent came into being - if you weren't a mad optimist, you wouldn't have set out on that road in the first place. Although Andreas manages to give people the impression that he is a rather austere figure, the "churchy" Andreas Whit-tam Smith is not the man I know at all. He's passionate about people and he's a passionate patriot, too; one of the things I share with him is his hatred of running Britain down. It comes back to his sense of optimism, that Britain is a good place to care about. If I didn't see Andreas any more, that's what I'd miss about him - his unshakeable belief that all things are possible.

ANDREAS WHITTAM SMITH: I first met Matthew at the Daily Telegraph in the early Eighties, when I was the City editor, and he was a leader-writer. Once a day I went to the big editorial conference, and I was one of the people responsible for saying what the leader-writers should cover that day, and Matthew often talked to me about his leaders. My first impression of him remains true today - that he was highly intelligent, that he had a lot of energy and that he was capable of big organisational feats. Also, he had a view which he and I both shared about business, economics and policy which could be called economic liberalism - which means that the market mechanism can be used to solve social problems as well as economic problems.

We were both on the good ship Daily Telegraph when it was plunging towards the rocks. It was going bust, and it was the year Conrad Black bought his shareholding, and circulation was falling. I conceived a plan, which Matthew was on the sidelines of, which would have effectively meant a refinancing of the paper, partly through the agency of its readers. It was turned down by the then owner, Lord Hartwell, and a few months later he lost the paper. I believe he would still own the paper today if he had accepted my plan. And then I had this idea about launching a new broadsheet newspaper, and sought a lot of advice about the viability of it, and then I approached Matthew.

I have a basic principle that you can only start a new venture with people in the 25 to 35 age group - only then do you get the wonderful mix of energy and creativity. That's what Matthew had, what everybody who joined had - the average age at the Independent when we started was 31. Looking round the Telegraph, Mat-thew just seemed to be the obvious person. So I invited him for lunch at the Garrick and explained to him the notion I had in my head. It was a crucial lunch - would he be persuaded? When I told Matthew what I had in mind he seemed slightly guarded, but he was basically enthusiastic. Al-though I was asking him to take a risk, the upside for him was huge. He was a junior leader writer, and he could see that if we were successful he was suddenly going to be in command, or near-command, of a newspaper. He was the best lieutenant I could possibly have had.

The one thing I regret is being persuaded by him, against my own views, about the Gulf war. I wish I had run the paper as being anti-war, but Matthew and everybody else persuaded me not to do this, because they didn't agree with my view. He didn't agree with my non-royal policy either, but he didn't push it. I suppose it seemed puritanical - but then nobody was as puritanical as I.

I'm proud of what we did. I'm proud of the Sunday Review - everybody has a review now, but we invented it. The Independent did hit problems after about 1990, but Matthew remained loyal throughout. He was always the one person I could ask to do a tough thing, in getting something right, or re-organising something, and he had the clear-sightedness to do it. He doesn't admit doubt, he is absolutely sure he's right. But I think it's not a very good thing in a newspaper editor to believe you're always right. I was more like the readers than Matthew, wishing to know better why things were happening. Matthew always gave the impression that he did understand and didn't have any desire to know better because he already had the answers. I'm more questioning.

Matthew's reputation has been of a rather harsh, arrogant, rigid person, and I've always been sorry about that, because it's not the real person, it's merely a mannerism. If we did have disagreements, it was about entrusting certain jobs to people. My greatest pleasure is to give a task to someone and, despite my slight misgivings about it, see them succeed and do it. But Matthew wouldn't do that; he would say, "This person isn't very good, don't give it to them." I'm softer, more flexible and optimistic, less clear-cut.

It was a wrench leaving the Indep-endent, but I'm not a regretful person, so I don't miss being editor. My relationship with Matthew was as good a working relationship as we could have had. We see each other about once a month, and I still value his advice on what I'm doing now. I admire the way he pushes on in life. He's been a wonderful friend to me. !

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