Network: The family business? OK so far, but could do better

Heir to the famous Getty Oil fortune, Mark Getty could easily have lived off the family trust fund. Instead, he chose a strikingly different path. An Oxford graduate, the young Getty became an investment banker, where he met Getty Images co-founder Jonathan Klein. He was just 23 when his uncle Gordon Getty sold Getty Oil, against his families' wishes, to Texaco for $11bn.

Keen to build a new family business, Mark Getty and his partner Klein focused on the stock photography market. "We saw the market as a large but inefficient one," Getty says. "We also saw technology as a catalyst for change in the industry ... Most importantly, it did not seem to us that anyone else in the industry had yet grasped this opportunity."

In just over three years, a world-leading, comprehensive ensemble has been created. In bringing together names like Tony Stone, Hulton Deutsch, ALLsport and Gamma Liaison under one roof, Getty Images can provide clients with a piece of history, a timely sports photo, a glossy business-type print or even film footage.

On adding Hollywood and TV productions to a long list of clients, Getty says: "If you look at the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on Titanic, you ask yourself, why on earth would they turn to stock footage? The answer is simple, many scenes used for the narrative of the film don't need to be expensively shot and can be bought from us."

A visit to Getty Images' London office reveals a fully computerised operation. Mark proudly points out two advanced Linotype scanners used for incoming images and runs me through Compass, the efficient search software used to locate images. Not even lunchtime yet and the display shows hundreds of calls have been received from interested customers. Bearing in mind a single image carries the potential to earn tens of thousands of pounds in royalties, this translates to a great deal of money.

Getty's main competition comes from Bill Gates's Corbis. Acknowledging his rival's magnitude, Getty points out that his is the only library to offer such a vast range of imagery. On Getty Images' success, he says: "This process involved Jonathan [Klein] and me, I did not do this on my own."

So what is the Getty family's view of Mark's success in business? "OK so far" he says, "though surely I could have done better."

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