Tayburn - A done deal...
The deal too, when it did emerge, was not a secret at all, according to the MBO team.
“Erick has always made his intentions quite clear internally and externally but he also made it clear that he wants what is best for the people at Tayburn,” says managing director Simon Farrell. “Having said that, there is a difference between wanting something to happen and it actually happening,” he adds.
Tayburn was launched in 1979. Initially housed in the offices of the agency’s lawyers on Edinburgh’s Constitution Street, the team moved to the city’s west end later that year to a “palatial” terraced house.
By 1980 Tayburn employed 18 people and in 1981 it launched its first London office in Covent Garden. By 1983 – just four years in – the agency achieved a turnover of £1m. Just a few scant, early facts; over its 28 years in business, every chapter in Tayburn’s history would read too weighty a tome to publish.
In more recent times, Davidson has been consciously stepping away from the business, realising that he had “lost a bit of energy” during his 26 years at the helm.
He stated (in 2005) that he planned to retire in 2009 (a plan that is now fully operational) to spend more time on the golf course. “I am 56 and it makes sense to work out who will ultimately be my successor,” said Davidson. “In 26 years we have always made a profit, that’s something I’m very proud of. But as you get older, you lose a bit of energy.”
The first step of his plan was to appoint a managing director. He came in a Simon Farrell-shaped mould, directly from The Chase in Manchester.
Farrell joined Tayburn in May 2005 but it wasn’t long after that initial buyout discussions were broached.
“There was always a desire for us to be in control of our own destiny but also for Erick to retire. We were fortunate that there was a willingness to buy and a willingness to sell at the same time,” says Farrell.
“I saw an opportunity to buy into the company which was a big thing for me,” he continues. “I’ve always had the dream of running my own company and never quite had the balls to do it on my own.”
Farrell’s reinforced balls came courtesy of financial director Bill Davidson, corporate director Steven Mitchell and creative director Malcolm Stewart – all of whom have equal shareholdings in the business with Farrell.
Private equity firm Noble Grossart retains an interest as an external investor – however, that is a relationship that has been nurtured over the agency’s 28-year history, with Sir Angus Grossart amongst the agency’s initial backers in 1979.
“This [MBO] was one of the reasons I joined,” says Farrell. “I could see the opportunity and the more the team worked together, the more we realised that we had the same ideas for the company.”
“Behind the scenes Erick has gradually, but deliberately, become less hands on,” continues Mitchell. “We wanted to ensure a seamless transition. We’ve got big ambitions, but we’re building on some pretty solid foundations and you don’t just throw that away.”
As such, while Davidson is due to step down from his executive role over the course of the next 12 months, he will remain as the agency’s non-exec chairman.
Davidson has led Tayburn to the top of the design ladder, not just in Scotland but throughout the UK over the last 28 years, and it is largely in his image that many outwith the agency view Tayburn. Hence it is perhaps a traditionalist label that has been slapped on the team.
However, with the new, erm, kids on the block, that might be a label that they are quick to peel off. Not so, says Stewart: “In terms of image, the outside perception is probably more corporate and traditional than the reality of working here. It is a young team now and image takes time to catch up with reality.
“But we deliver serious work for big companies, and as such, we can’t get anything wrong. We will build on that reputation and add more energy and excitement. We don’t have a desire to change anything suddenly, it will happen naturally.”
Farrell’s appointment as MD at Tayburn also saw the launch of a Manchester office for the agency. In the past, Tayburn has been in and out of the London market, having twice opened an office in the city. But the investment in the Manchester office is something that the new team is taking seriously.
The office opened in November 2005. A new design director has just joined – Vicky Beswick – from Farrell’s former agency The Chase, and the agency is in the throes of recruiting further.
Says Mitchell: “It’s important to put the right resource behind Manchester and build our reputation. We’ve got high hopes to really establish the business there.
“We have a tight focus,” he continues. “We’re very strong in our three key pillars – corporate identity, brand packaging and annual reports. We take a strategic approach and command a creative output.
“Our problem is that we don’t have a reputation in the north of England so we will have to benefit from our reputation here. But that is a solid platform for growth.”
“But this is where our specialisms will come in,” interjects Farrell. “In Manchester there isn’t anybody doing what we do. People with a budget of £250,000 are looking for more than a nice design. They are looking for help to develop, get key messages across and communicate a good image to the city, while understanding the role of corporate responsibility.
“The number of PLC’s in the North West is significant. Although it’s a competitive market place, we have a point of difference and arguably a bigger playing field in which to operate.”
This approach has been echoed too in Tayburn’s recent investment in its online capabilities.
“We’ve put in additional resources to help it grow, which it has significantly this year,” claims Farrell. “We don’t want to become an online business, though. Online is just another channel for our expertise.”
Tayburn recently launched an online annual report for Visitscotland – the Scottish tourism agency’s first foray online for its annual reporting. Tayburn has previously worked with the tourism body on its report, but transferred its relationship into
the online arena, an example of the online business supporting Tayburn’s other key strands.
The agency, at present, employs 45 staff, yet at one time it housed around 100 employees. But the sharpened focus has defined how big the business is now, claims Mitchell.
“We want to focus on what we do best. If we do grow, it will be across our offices,” he continues. “There are plans to grow the numbers again, certainly through Manchester. But I doubt that we will reach the numbers we once had – at least not in the short term.”
Another area of growth for the agency is overseas. Tayburn set up a base in Istanbul following an approach in the ‘90s from a firm based in the city, with two former merchant bankers arranging a license agreement with the agency to use Tayburn’s name and expertise.
“They were dealing with a lot of financial companies and saw a need for the standard of annual reports produced in Turkey to be raised,” explains Mitchell. “They wanted to make sure they met ‘western’ standards of design and EU reporting regulations.
“They took our name and, in return, we get a license fee based on their performance.”
Istanbul is growing too, with 12 staff producing around 30 annual reports a year in both Turkish and English.
While obviously keen to build on its client list, Tayburn retains a portfolio of long-term clients. None perhaps as enduring as drinks giant Scottish & Newcastle though – a relationship which spans 20 years.
As such, S&N accounts for a large chunk of Tayburn’s business. As well as working on branding, packaging and corporate projects, Tayburn undertakes a large chunk of S&N’s studio and repro work. Therefore, it will come as no surprise that the new management team has been eyeing the news of hostile takeover threats to S&N with caution. “Of course it is a worry,” says Farrell, “but it could be an opportunity. S&N is a fantastic client and an important account, but it’s an account rather than an unrealistic percentage of our turnover. That’s important.”
As Davidson gets ready to add to his list of non-exec roles and, most likely, detract from his golf handicap, he has also muted the subject of politics “with a small ‘p’ as an ambition still to fulfill.
Yet there will be no revolution here, it seems. Evolution looks a far smarter way forward for the team at Tayburn. Davidson will no doubt agree.