My Biggest Mistake: Sellout turned my firm from a baby into a monster

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The Independent Online
Ruth Simmons, 48, taught zoology to A level students before launching her business, Songseekers International, in 1980. The company, which matches soundtracks to commercials, is Europe's leading synchronisation agency, with turnover of pounds 7m

MY BIGGEST mistake was to be seduced into taking my small, entrepreneurial business into a corporation - in the process compromising what I believed in.

My business was seven years old when I was approached by two young directors of a film company. They were doing a lot of acquisitions, and wanted to buy my husband's publishing and administration company. I was operating from my husband's offices, and got to know them; they were nice people.

At the time, my two children were aged five and three, and I had organised my business life so I could be there for them. Songseekers was also like my own child, and although these two directors wanted to buy me out, I said I wasn't going to sell all of it - I agreed to sell half.

The problem was that this film company then grew like Topsy. One of the original directors left, and the other was sent abroad. A new finance director was appointed. Then all the board meetings began to be deferred to times that I couldn't attend: at 6pm, for instance, when I needed to get home.

I wasn't included in decision-making and it began to feel very, very uncomfortable. It had been a very seductive experience, being courted by what I perceived to be a large corporation, with all the frills of sitting on a board and being part of a bigger team. But I ended up being a pawn in a game, and what had been my baby became a monster.

After six months, I knew I'd made a terrible mistake, but it took me a year to get out. After 18 months, I had bought back my company in its entirety, but had nothing in the bank. It was like starting again - except that I had my clients. Sometimes what you think is your worst mistake is the best move you've ever made.

I don't regret leaving. It made me determine to focus on what the culture of my company is. You have to be open to new ideas, but you also have to hold onto your culture, because it's about what you stand for. I want to be able to put my head down on the pillow at night and say, I am running this company true to myself. I've always said since then that I don't want my company to grow so people don't mix with each other. If a member of staff is ill, two or three people will phone them.

We have regular meetings, because I realise how important it is for staff to feel involved. I know what it feels like to be ignored and discounted - to feel what you do is never good enough. I have learnt you have to continue to value people, because if you don't, they will walk.