JASON BRUGES STUDIO FEATURES IN THE SUNDAY TIMES

Darren Henderson and Jason Bruges were interviewed by Carly Chynoweth for The Sunday Times article entitled “Time to find a pro to run the show….”

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“Jason Bruges is creative soul. When the architecture graduate founded Jason Bruges Studios in 2002 he had a niche in mind — art installations for corporate and public sector clients.
His firm’s growth was shaped primarily by his commitment to making interesting things. The recruitment policy, for example, was to hire people whenever the studio won a commission that required skills none of the existing staff had.
Despite the bias towards art rather than business, the studio ticked over nicely until the recession began in 2008. Then it nearly went under. “We stayed alive but only just,” said Bruges. “That experience left me determined to find a more sustainable way of doing things.”
He decided to recruit a seasoned executive to take charge of the business, stabilising it and preparing it for growth as well as freeing Bruges to focus on the creative side.
Darren Henderson, a former vice-president of strategic marketing at Sony Music, was appointed managing director in 2010. When Henderson arrived he was impressed by the creative energy but a little shocked by the state of the finances.
“There was no money in the business,” he said. “None. I did not realise how tough it was looking financially.”
The studio had given priority to creativity, Henderson added. “It was not that the business was naive — it would not have survived as long as it did otherwise — but it was not realising its potential. There was more that could be done.” For example, it needed more focus on following up opportunities and more consistency in the way it applied the business disciplines already in place.
Bruges said that letting go of the managerial reins had been difficult, but there were benefits for him. “Considering where we had been, it was a relief to be able to concentrate on new business and the creative management of the studio,” he said.
He is also pleased with the results. Since Henderson arrived turnover has risen from £1m to £1.8m, and is on track to reach £3.5m for the latest year. Also, the company is expanding overseas, with new clients in countries such as America, Canada and China.
Bringing in a professional manager is an important part of preparing for a sale or other exit, said John Kent, president and founder of Traka, an electronic key and locker maker based in Buckinghamshire. The experience of his managing director, Robert Smith, added weight to the management team and was “a positive factor” in the firm’s acquisition by Assa Abloy last year, Kent said.
“In the four years since Robert joined, Traka has more than doubled in size and this year will see 27% growth, with a further 20% forecast year on year,” he said. “We have expanded worldwide operations and expect to employ a further 20 staff over the next year. With Robert’s assistance and the strength of our team, the business is much less reliant on me and is a sustainable unit with a huge future.”
Finding the right person to manage your company takes work but the results are worth it, said Andrew Pearce, cofounder of Powwownow. He appointed Simon Curry to be chief executive of the conference call service in 2011 after recognising that it needed “proper structured management” as it grows.
“A lot of entrepreneurs are concerned about stepping away from their business but they should be less worried,” said Pearce. “As long as you go through the right recruitment process and monitor and manage the person for 6 to 12 months before giving him or her the keys to the firm, the benefits can be great.”
Pearce and his cofounder stayed hands-on for eight months after Curry joined them at their offices in Richmond, southwest London, so they could see how he operated and be happy that their investment in the firm was protected.
“Our ability to watch and monitor for that time allowed us to have confidence in him. I can now step back. I don’t need to sit there every day because I know that the business is in safe hands and I know he has the same incentives I do to make it successful.”
The stages before bringing in a professional manager need to be handled carefully, added Kit Scott-Brown, head of Interexec, a placement agency for senior executives. “[Hiring a professional manager] is one of the high-risk points in the growth of an entrepreneurial business because it is so easy to get it wrong,” he said.
“This can be financially costly but it can also damage the brand, plus, of course, if you get the wrong person it becomes more difficult to get the right person afterwards. If an executive sees that someone else has given it a go and not succeeded, he will be more cautious about getting involved.
“Before you bring in a senior executive you need a clear vision and growth strategy for the business so you can identify the type of individual required. You might see that all you need is a mid-level executive with no significant aspirations beyond earning a salary and bonus.”
Senior executives will be able to handle bigger and more complex situations, but will have higher expectations, Scott-Brown said. “In my experience they are not overly concerned about their pay package but they will only want to go to a smaller company if there is a considerable long-term incentive. The entrepreneur will have to be prepared to sacrifice equity with a prospective value of at least £1m at exit.”

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