My Biggest Mistake

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The Independent Online
Andy Munro, 42, is the head of Munro Associates, one of the world's top studio design consultants. He studied mechanical engineering at Imperial College, London, and moved to the US in 1972 to work as a development engineer for Shure Corporation. In 1977, back in the UK, he became group technical director of AHB and MBI Broadcast Systems. Three years later (in 1980) he started his own design practice, and is now active in 30 countries. Projects have included the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, Euro Disney in Paris and the National Opera House in Helsinki.

MY BIG mistake was letting my heart rule my head in deciding which of two companies I should go into partnership with.

I had put together a deal with the Irish government in 1985 to build a residential recording studio complex. I needed a million pounds, and had a grant from the Irish Industrial Development Agency for pounds 420,000 - plus a lot of interest from such companies as Virgin and EMI.

One of our biggest clients at the time was Windmill Lane Group. I had designed its recording studios, which had become famous in the industry and were home to top bands, such as U2. Windmill Lane wanted to expand into manufacturing and setting up television studio complexes all over the world. What they needed was a designer, which appealed to me, because I had already intended to set up a manufacturing operation in Ireland.

At the same time, I was approached by Edgetech, one of the UK's most successful manufacturers of sound equipment. Both organisations wanted to buy my company, and in both cases I would have been a main board director.

My priority was to get this Irish studio complex off the ground. I was spending a lot of time in Dublin and had been frequenting a pub, The Dockers, which was a haunt of many Irish bands. Van Morrison was in Windmill Lane doing an album of traditional Irish music with the Chieftains, and I had decided that this was what music was all about.

I knew that if the studio complex was to make a profit, it would need a very high profile - and since I had to make a choice, I went with Windmill Lane. Almost immediately, I realised it was a mistake. Instead of working in Ireland, I was based in London's Soho Square with enormous overheads. Windmill Lane went on to get what it wanted in terms of building TV studios, but my projects got buried in the process.

We never did build the studios or set up manufacturing in Ireland.

Looking back, I realise I lacked courage in my own convictions and was too easily led down a different route from one that I had already researched and knew, absolutely knew, would work.

Once we realised the partnership wasn't working, we wound the company down. It was all very amicable, but was also an expensive mistake for both parties.

For me, it was made worse by knowing that, had I joined forces with the manufacturer, I would have been part of the consortium when it was later bought by AKG for a great deal of money.

However, I have since gone on to set up both a successful manufacturing operation and a very successful television studio design company on my own.

Last year we doubled our turnover. We have done well in the recession, mainly because we have a strong product. Among the clients we supply is Sony Music in Japan - a classic example of carrying coals to Newcastle.

At last I am in control of my destiny, despite having made the worst decision of my life. The moral is, if you're going to go into partnership, make sure you share the same goals and can work together to achieve them. It's no good selling your company otherwise - unless you intend to walk away.

(Photograph omitted)

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