Father and son

Maurice and Tim Drake started a business back in the 1990s. The company evolved into Flipside Group, a digital advertising and marketing agency.

The company is set for sales of £3 million this year and counts the United Nations among its clients.

The Father

I started in the printing industry as an apprentice typesetter for a company in Guildford and ended up as the managing director. I sold the company when I was in my mid-fifties and planned to become a consultant in the printing industry.

This was after Tim went to university. He didn’t settle there, dropped out and like a lot of teenagers he stayed at home being totally disillusioned about things. So I thought having spent all that money on his education and supporting him in every other way, I better get him going.

We set up a company and had a breakthrough after a business came looking for people like us to handle their typesetting. Tim didn’t know much about that but I had some knowledge as I was involved in the early days of computer typesetting.

In no time at all, we had four offices and employed 15 people. It became a fully fledged business and Tim really got the bit between his teeth. Eventually, we diversified into a whole range of different things, such as software development, web design, printing, publishing, film and video.

Go for it

Apart from my skills in administration and production, I have plenty of experience as I’ve been in business for 40 years. But I’ve learnt things from Tim too, like not being inhibited and following up opportunities without pre-judging the outcome. There were lots of things that I thought weren’t worth doing and he’s done them anyway and it’s turned out better and different to what I expected. We do get on very well. We’ve had a few arguments but we always end up with the same answers in the end.

Wise heads

When I started my job after finishing my engineering course at technical college, there was a chap who ran the company who was an ex-London Stock Exchange man. He served in the war and was invalided out and didn’t want to go back into the City. He was 20 years older than me and didn’t know much about the printing side of things, but I learnt an awful lot about business from him.

After I finished my two years of National Service in the RAF, I went back to the company and was made co-director. I was a bit like Tim, expanding the company and getting my teeth into things. We bought a business from a newspaper and by the age of 25, I had a staff of 30.

Means tested

It was during the recession in the 1970s that I learnt very fast about unit costs and ensuring every bit of waste and unnecessary expense is eliminated. I  realised the importance of cash and that with high overheads and limited capacity you either have to reduce the overheads or increase the capacity. That’s when I identified a company that had extra facilities and we merged to spread the overheads across both businesses.

My role now is keeping an eye on the money, which is very tricky during a recession. I don’t know if I’ll be carrying on doing this for much longer, but I still enjoy it very much.

The Son

The company was set up with a grant from the Prince’s Youth Business Trust. That was at the tail end of the last recession in the mid-1990s. My dad happened to be at the point in his life when he was between businesses. He invested some money in the company and we’ve built it up from there.

A young apprentice

There is quite a big age gap between me and my dad – I’m 37 and he’s 73. In the beginning, I very quickly got used to calling him Maurice [in meetings], rather than Dad. Interestingly, over the past five or six years I have started referring to him in front of clients as Dad rather than Maurice. It’s less of a stigma and more a matter of pride that I have my 73-year old dad working with me.

We have quite distinct roles. He is essentially an extremely experienced business administrator, whereas I’m at the sharp end of closing deals, completing work and coming up with ideas to drive the business forward.

History will probably prove that he has been right far more than I have. Even though we went through the dotcom crash, this recession has made me understand him more than ever before. What’s interesting is that my own life is changing too – when I’ve asked why he didn’t take greater risks with his own company, he says that it was because he had a young family. Well, I have twins on the way in a couple of months so this recession, combined with having a family, has meant that I am in fact turning into my dad.

Profits matter

It’s now a question of check and check again. Whereas the strategy used to be about chasing turnover, I think that experience says you have to look at your bottom line, especially in the creative industries. In the past, the emphasis was on acquiring the right type of clients and putting the business through the books and almost damn the profitability. Now every company needs to pay its way.

My dad hasn’t been paid in years. He takes virtually a minimum salary – he doesn’t quite do it for the love of it, although it’s been his life, his reason for being. No matter what happens, he’ll always be on my shoulder whispering that I should think again about something. He is the business equivalent of the Green Cross Code man. I’ve stopped and looked many times, but I do wish I’d actually listened a bit more to what he suggested.

Pushing boundaries

The point is that the business would not have grown to what it is without me. You need the energy and I have the experience now having done this for 16 years. It’s more a question of having someone you absolutely trust.

All in all, this recession has taught me the benefits of growing organically rather than by acquisition as you can control costs a lot more easily through organic growth. I’ve bought businesses through share capital, goodwill and assets; I’ve done it in all sorts of different ways. If you take over a business, it has to be so on your terms that it’s almost too good to be true.

You can’t afford nasty surprises at the moment.

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