For anyone unfamiliar with WPP it may come as a surprise that the world’s largest advertising firm started off as Wire and Plastics Products plc, a British company selling wire shopping baskets. Looking for a corporate “shell” in which to grow the business, Martin, formerly finance director at Saatchi & Saatchi, bought a 30% stake in the company in 1985.
He surprised both the communications and business world with a string of major acquisitions, taking over some of the oldest and most prolific advertising companies in the world. By 2013, WPP was employing 162,000 people worldwide and had revenues in excess of £7.5 billion. Martin himself is now thought to have a net worth of £115 million and is the longest-standing FTSE 100 CEO.
“My dad said “find a job you enjoy doing” and I think that’s a critical component. It’s a terrible phrase but “a bad decision on Monday is better than a good decision on Friday”, meaning you should just get on with it and I think that’s really important. It means if someone phones you, phone them back, if someone writes you a note, answer them as quick as you can because they have taken the trouble to write it, don’t ignore them. Those are the sort of things that I think are important”.
During a refurbishment of her boyfriend’s home Chrissie found it was impossible to find white home-wares in national retailers that were both affordable and good quality. After extensive market research she found that white bed linen, table covers, towels and china, were generally either poor quality and cheap or luxury items that were too expensive for the majority of consumers.
Chrissie launched The White Company as a mail order business in 1993 with the aim of providing excellent quality white products at an affordable price. She left her job as a beauty journalist on Harpers & Queen and started to build the business from scratch.
“We want it go be a great experience the minute you walk through the door. To be inspiring and exciting, inviting and welcoming, yet calm and serene. Some of our customers actually tell us they love it so much they often pop in just to calm down if they are having a bad day! We want it to be somewhere you love to spend time in, a bit like home really and somewhere you know you can trust the quality, advice and service.”
“I think this notion that it’s the individual and the cult of the entrepreneur troubles me somewhat. I don’t know many entrepreneurs that don’t have an amazing team around them and I was incredibly lucky that I have always had a great team around me. Brent is a really remarkable person, my family is really remarkable, my boyfriend has been extraordinary. I really mean that very profoundly, it’s made life a lot more fulfilling and I have been a lot more successful than if I had been alone. Obviously it is hard to praise yourself but I hope I have a not-totally-self-aware optimism so what I like to think is I believe in the possible”.
Over the last 15 years, Peter Bazalgette has brought some of the best known television formats to our screens. He founded his own production company, Bazal, in the early 90s, making the most of the experience he built up at the BBC as a producer.
He is responsible for the creation of some of the most important entertainment shows in recent television history, including Ready Steady Cook, Changing Rooms and Ground Force.
Crucially, these programmes were not only popular in the UK, but many were sold abroad, in as many as 30 countries. Peter is perhaps best known as the man that brought Big Brother to the UK, starting a ten year long craze that dominated the news as much as it dominated Channel 4’s evening schedule.
The popularity of the series has been a major factor in the success of Endemol, the international production company that absorbed Bazal in the early 90s. During his time as the Chair of Endemol UK and Creative Director of the Endemol Group, the value of the firm trebled to €3.2 billion.
It is hard to believe now but finding out what was going on in the nation’s capital was a difficult business in 1968. There were no dedicated listings magazines and getting to grips with the cultural scene in the city meant going through what was then called the “underground press” with such titles as International Times, Oz and Gandalf’s Garden. At this time, Tony Elliott was about to go into his final year at Keele University. Seeing a gap in the market, he decided to use a £75 birthday gift from his aunt to start his own listings magazine.
“If people have got a strong idea that is well executed, and clearly it has to be something that fulfills some kind of a need, the last thing the world needs is 150 new music magazines for example, so you’ve got to pick your spot, really work hard and execute it as well as possible. I think people often think they can’t start small, you have to be of some size. I’ve always advised people to aim for a niche and establish yourself in that niche and then build from there. I think the era is over really where people have an idea that goes national and becomes enormous. It’s more a question of small and good.”
When Amanda took up the Chief Executive role at BAFTA in 2000, the Academy was suffering from lack of interest and lack of funds. Although it was still hosting the annual awards ceremonies that it is best known for, the organisation had gradually lost touch with both the public and much of its own membership. Amanda is widely recognised as having turned BAFTA around. Since the start of her tenure, the prospects for the Academy have increased dramatically. Moving the Film Awards ceremony from March to before the Oscars required a huge amount of work but it now means that the awards are seen as part of the New Year awards season. The charitable functions of the organisation have also increased, going from around four events a month excluding the awards ceremonies to around 250 events a year, most of which are accessible to the public.
Before you commit to anything, it’s really important to look at what your worst case scenario would be. If, for whatever reason, your business doesn’t work out the way you thought it might, what would be the consequences for you? For instance, If you’re leaving a secure job there’s a good chance that you’ve got a strong enough background and CV to get another job, so it’s not too risky. Once you’ve made the decision to do it, go for it and don’t look back.
Last week I spoke to Chris Edwards, the co-founder and co-managing director of Poundworld, the discount retailer which last year opened it’s 208th outlet. Chris began his career in retail on his parent’s market stall in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Despite the explosive growth of Poundworld over the last six years, Edwards is adamant that his primary motivation is “fear of failure” in the increasingly difficult environment of the UK high street. You can read the full interview here.