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Thoughts from Peter Lane

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

It’s 20 years since our Chairman, Pete, made the brave move to take Columns out of the corporate world. It’s clear that it was one of the best decisions he ever made.

How did you come to buy Columns out?

As the then Managing Director of Partners Columns Design, I decided that the corporate “bottom line” approach was no longer for me. I understood it was all about shareholder returns, however there was never any interest in my team, our clients – or appreciation of our achievements. There had to be more to it than purely rinsing clients and working all hours and on occasions, through the night on agency pitches. Surely there were other more satisfying ways to run a business.

So, after an 18-hour overnight meeting with the groups’ CFO and many lawyers, I told myself that it was a case of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and had bought the business, which was very scary. I thanked Mrs Lane for her amazing support, as our house and livelihoods were now firmly on the line.

One of the first decisions I made was abolishing all retainers, as I always believed clients should want and not have to work with us; they should be free to dispense with our services if we did not deliver on the high standards we had set ourselves, standards which they had come to expect. We always needed, and wanted to be as good as our last job.

What was the main driver for becoming independent?

Disillusionment. I guess I wanted my agency to be everything that my previous owners were not. Which is putting people before profit.

To be caring, thoughtful and honest with my team and our clients.

In addition, I was told that only b******s can run successful businesses. I challenged that perception and wondered how they measured success, because for me financial success was only a tiny part of my vision. I was more interested in creating a happy team with happy clients – that to me was success.

What has been your proudest moment?

Having eleven people risking their careers to join me in a brand new, but unproven adventure. I am so proud that many people who I have worked with during the last 20 years and more have stayed with Columns for an extraordinary amount of time. At a guess, the average per employee would be around 10 years. One member of the team is still with us after 28 years.

What does independence mean to Columns?

I look at being independent as a type of freedom.

The freedom to decide what kind of business we wanted. For example, ensuring that everyone enjoys coming to work but enjoys going home more. Always having my metaphorical door open for the team and clients. The freedom to work with like-minded clients and make them look good (not us).

The freedom to keep an eye on the bottom line, but not to make this the number one priority. To be able go that extra mile for clients without adding to their costs. To be able to care about colleagues’ welfare and to give them all a voice. To reward talent, hard work, and loyalty. To be able to make the decisions that matter with my Board (even when I occasionally made mistakes).

And finally, the freedom to enjoy doing what we do, but more importantly, the way and how we do it.

How did you plan for the future?

My intentions were to never sell Columns to an outsider, as I have been very fortunate to have been able to hand the business over to trusted members of the current team. This has been incredibly successful. During the last two years, I have been proudly announcing to the world that Candida and Jules are now the 90% owners of the business.

It has been tough to not be so involved in a business which I am very passionate about. However it is an enormous privilege to have these incredibly talented ladies take the reins, as I know they will retain the core ethos of Columns of old, whilst running the Columns of the future in a way they feel works for them, their team, and their clients. I know the business, it’s people and clients are in very safe, talented, passionate, and ambitious hands.

It’s been a fantastic 20 years of independence, or as I say “freedom”... I have loved every minute!

A big thank you to everyone who has been involved.

Here’s looking forward to the next 20.