The adman who's betting on Britain's creative future
He's rich and successful - now he wants others to be like him
Monday 18 October 2004
Chris Ingram sits in his airy but modest office just north of Oxford Street in central London surrounded by sculptures from his expanding collection of modern British art.
The king of media buyers is worth an estimated £70m. He used some small change from this fortune to buy his local football club, Woking, and has endowed the Surrey commuter town's public gallery with the art works he has assembled.
His collection includes pieces by Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth, and there's even a small Henry Moore. But his favourite is a bronze soldier's head by Dame Elisabeth Frink. "I think it's the battered face and its rugged broken nose that attracts me," he says.
Not the sort of comment you would expect from that other multi-millionaire ad-man turned art collector Charles Saatchi, but Ingram is very serious about his interest.
"I like modern British art because it's such an angst-ridden period that includes two world wars and includes the shift from figurative to abstract... but not too abstract," he says. Only as an afterthought does he add: "As it happens the market has taken off substantially recently so it [the collection] has also turned into quite a good investment."
The idea of money as a measure of success rather than a motivation in itself is a recurring theme in Ingram's life. Three years ago he became one of the very few advertising men ever to get the better of Sir Martin Sorrell when he sold Tempus, the listed media buying and planning group he founded in 1976, to Sorrell's WPP for £432m.
The price, which was originally agreed in mid-2001, worked out at 34 times greater than Tempus' annual profits (a multiple of 10-20 is closer to the norm). But when WPP tried to back out of the deal citing "material adverse change" after 9/11, the Stock Exchange Takeover Panel ordered the deal to go through.
Ingram personally trousered £62m. But vast wealth was never the point he says. "For years before that I knew I was going to have more money than I could possibly need. Certainly if money is your sole motivation, you are never going to build a world class business. Successful entrepreneurs are invariably driven people. Like so many others I was trying to prove something to my father."
He tells of how Ingram senior, who had grown up in the recession of the 1930s, wanted him to have a safe career in accountancy or insurance. In a surprising admission for such a highly successful media man, he says he failed his maths O level, thus scuppering any chances of a career in finance. "That feeling of failure didn't stop even when he died," he says. It is that dreadful feeling that drives him to this day.
Ingram himself has done well out of the creative industries and he wants to put something back. His latest project is a unique government-led initiative to boost the business skills of the UK's increasingly important creative industries.
The Centre for Creative Business is a joint venture between the London Business School and the University of Arts London. It aims to inject commercial know-how and management nous into small and medium-sized businesses across the creative spectrum from design, architecture, advertising and broadcast to publishing, PR, computer games and fashion.
Ingram put up seed capital for the body and now sits on its board. If successful it will offer substantial benefits to the entire UK economy he says.
"The size of the creative industries is staggering. In London alone the City contributes £35bn to the economy, but creative industries contribute £21bn. Between 1997 and 2001 they grew by 8 per cent a year, three times faster than the rest of the economy, and they employ nearly two million people. What's more we are stunningly good at it as a nation."
Perhaps more important still is the role that the Creative Industries will play in our future. "We cannot, no matter how hard we try, increase manufacturing jobs in this country. We can't compete with China, that's all there is to it. Intellectual property and services is our only way forward."
He puts that down to our liberal education system, our mongrel history and a serendipitous blend of attributes in our national character or culture. "We are a funny mixture of creativity and discipline. We aren't completely off the wall as a people but we are determinedly independent. We are also sufficiently organised but not too organised," he says. "The trouble is that many creative businesses are set up by people primarily interested in their craft, which means most fail within the first three years, or are doomed to remain small largely because of poor management."
The Centre for Creative Business will train the owners of creative businesses in the important but often neglected nitty-gritty topics such as finance, recruitment, risk management and marketing. It may be able to teach skills, but it will never be able to provide the unquenchable hunger that entrepreneurs need to succeed.
In just three years since he sold Tempus, Ingram has opened The Ingram Partnership, a top end branding and strategy consultancy; he has launched a venture capital fund called Genesis; he chairs Woking FC, has endowed the town's municipal gallery and still finds time for charity work with Shelter and the World Wildlife Fund For Nature.
If just reading that list makes you feel tired, the chances are that in Ingram's experience you are unlikely to have what it takes to succeed.
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