In the beginning I had brown hair. Now, it’s white

09/11/20214 Minutes

Embrace change and always look forward

I run a design and branding company, named Pearlfisher. It started small, now it’s big. Very.

When we launched in 1992, I had brown hair. Today, it’s white. Similarly,I had one baby back then, now I have four adult children and four studios – all of them equally individual, somewhat self-centred and prepared to collaborate only on the big occasions or when daddy is around.

The studios speak in family terms when it comes to relationships, but my children call me by my name.

In the adrenalised, survive-or-die early days, I eagerly presented our work on boards – before the dying smell of artist’s ink and glue faded into powerful, digitised pheromones. In the beginning, I was a Creative Partner – one of three founders. Now, I think my title is Founding Partner and Group Creative Officer (Global, when needed to make a point).

Most agency owners love beating the shit out of others at a pitch. I must admit to a bit of chest beating along the way as our clients grew, our profile picked up and we started to win awards.

There’s nothing like sticking it to some competitor who you think does inferior work (but inside you secretly admire their turnover).

Oh and clients. Some became friends, but I never loved one like they say you should. They never loved me. In fact, they slept around. A lot.

Every now and then you stumble and fall. Whether the slip-ups are of your own volition or not, they’re a product of fate. When this happens, bring in fresh pairs of eyes and ask for help. There’s nothing more chilling than somebody external pointing out your lack of seduction compared to the competition – at least you get to do something about it before the next big thing hits. My defence mechanism has always been to look forward: to watch what’s coming and hold the hand of change.

Talking of which, we’re 30 next year. 30th anniversaries are the stuff of Pearls, I’ve been told, which is very apt. In 30 years of business, I’ve seen at least four recessions, a dot-com bubble burst, too many wars, riots of many kinds, a rise in global temperatures, a black out in NYC – and I was on a plane to New York on 9/11.

Also: a lot of plastic washed up on my favourite beach. Some of it was what I’d designed. That led to me giving a speech called “I am a rubbish designer” and winning the Chelsea Flower Show gold medal.

There is creativity in adversity.

I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve worked for me – it’s well over a thousand around the world. But the best lot are my competitors now. Sadly, not enough of my staff were from as diverse backgrounds as I would have liked, but I’ve been leading change on that recently.

Currently, there are 15 spin-off companies that I know of out there. Plus, countless well-trained freelancers are flooding the market and eroding margins everywhere. I wish them all well. I started that way so good luck to you all – do good work and don’t forget to charge for it. A lot.

Ideas are currency. Get the right one and it’s worth more than a smile – it’s the stuff that builds companies.