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Alan Frame: Lasting Legacy

By The Drum, Administrator

July 12, 2007 | 5 min read

News Feature

It is three months since Alan Frame’s death shocked the marketing community. Although most were too tactful to say it at the time, many believed the agency he founded Frame, stood a good chance of dying with him.

On the face of it, things looked bleak for the business. He was seen as the driving force behind its success and the lynch-pin of key accounts such as Subway.

Not only that but the 42 year-old fitness fanatic had died intestate – a fact that added another layer of complication.

His assets, including the business in which he was a 100 per cent shareholder and its building, automatically passed to his young daughters. It meant that his ex-wife Fiona, as their guardian, could have taken full control of the business – which still employs Alan’s new partner, Lesley Dougall – if she so wished.

However, the business has not imploded. In fact ,it has continued to expand. This year it is still on course to make record profits on a record turnover of around £5m, which is up from £3.5m last year.

The company has just announced two senior appointments; Keith Bolton (joining from Publicis) who is to head up the Subway account and Gary O’Donnell (the ex-TBWA Edinburgh MD) who comes on board as commercial director.

Much of the credit for keeping the business on track must go to George Cumming, who was appointed MD of the agency several weeks after Frame died. Cumming, who originally joined the company in 2001 as finance director, was also Frame’s brother-in-law and best friend.

He says he has not yet had time to reflect on the events of the last few months. “Alan died on the Sunday, and on Monday morning I had to meet staff at the door and break the news. There was a dreadful atmosphere, people were tearful and tense.

“But within a week, I realised I had to focus on the business. In many ways Alan’s dying is the ultimate lesson that nobody is indispensable. Perhaps in the past we had not been very good at marketing ourselves.

“The market did not appreciate the number of very talented people we had in the business. However, since Alan died, they have come to the fore in order to deliver his legacy.”

But did legal complications caused by Frame dying without a will hinder the business during this period?

“Initially the only confusion was who the executor was going to be. But that role has been taken by Alan’s ex-wife. But apart from that it has made no difference to the business at all.”

Crucially, although ownership of the business might have changed, day to day control has been left with the board of directors – which comprises Cumming, Graeme Atha and chairman Richard Sowerby.

Said Cumming: “It is the board of directors, not the shareholders, who are running the business. In fact, there has been very little communication with the shareholders at all. This business has had 18 years of increased sales and profits. What we are still focused on is making sure next year continues that trend.”

Cumming looked confident and comfortable talking about the business. There is no doubt he is a man with a mission, who is not afraid of taking hard decisions. For example within two weeks of Frame’s death, managing partner David Miller left the business and Cumming took the hot seat himself.

He is still routinely working 14 hour days, but says with the new people coming on board he sees a time when “I can focus on tomorrow rather than today.”

His motivation is simple. “My allegiance is to Alan. He was my best friend and I am Godfather to one of his daughters. She is a keen swimmer – in fact, I saw her at a swimming gala on Saturday. She has also recently beaten her personal best time. Alan would have been so proud.”

But what about the future? Surely the business must be sold. Cumming will not be drawn.

“Every business is for sale if the price is right. But I think Alan’s estate will consider its position in the next two to three months.”

In the meantime the message is, it’s business as usual. Recently Frame took its staff out for a review of the last year, and a preview of what the next 12 months might hold.

“We explained to them that evolution, not revolution, is the order of the day,” said Cumming. “We already have a very successful company. What we want to do is build on that success.”

It is no doubt a sentiment that would have been supported by the no-nonsense Frame himself. Such was his vitality and personality it is still difficult to believe he is gone – something Cumming himself feels.

“I came round the corner recently and saw a silver Mercedes – the sort of car Alan used to drive – parked outside the office. I did a double take. For a second I wondered if the last few months had all been a dream.”


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