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Ian Cochrane

Ian Cochrane

“Poacher turned gamekeeper turned non-exec.”

I spent 12 years running Europe’s two largest design consultancies (Fitch Worldwide and Landor Europe) and then decided to be less hands-on, becoming an advisor to ambitious creative leaders helping them avoid the mistakes I had made.

Now, with a further 20 years industry experience behind me, I usually operate as a non-exec director: giving ideas, challenging, questioning, supporting, facilitating and encouraging. My style is honest, direct and forthright but delivered in a caring and sensitive way – it’s interesting that many of my clients are successful business women who have undoubtedly helped me hone this style and refreshed the way I do things.

“We are all more effective in someone else’s board room”

I work with agency boards just as they work with client boards. I see the business from a different perspective and I’m not emotionally attached, allowing me to clearly see both the problems and the potential. My mission is to ensure that the business grows in a way that shareholders want as opposed to how clients want things to be; to help the business set a growth agenda and ensure it sticks to it rigidly despite the daily demands of a busy design agency.

Areas of expertise

Financial planning: Performance & efficiency Funding System accounting Mergers & acquisitions Financial management & budgeting
Business processes: Business strategy & planning Business diagnostics
People: Human resource management Coaching Mentoring
Marketing: Marketing strategy & planning


Experience in the design industry

Design industry experience: 30 years

CEO of Fitch wordwide and Business Affairs director of Landor Europe. Ian has since worked with most of the leading names including Fitch, Landor, Lloyd Northover, The Partners, Elmwood, Rodney Fitch, Design House, Marketplace, Williams Murray Hamm, Turner Duckworth, Conran Design Group, Household, Radley Yeldar, The Team and Loewy Group.

Professional affiliations

  • Institute of Directors (IOD)
  • Royal Society of Arts (RSA)
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants (FCA)
  • Corporate Finance Faculty (CF)
  • Grouchos (founding member)
  • Shoreditch house

My approach

My approach is two pronged:

1. Tuning a business for maximum performance = higher growth and better margins

Like engines or machines, all the hard components of the business need to be tuned for maximum performance:

  • marketing and sales
  • people and roles
  • client growth and retention
  • internal communications
  • internal reporting
  • agenda for growth
  • key performance indicators

2. Building the value of a brand = a saleable asset and a pension scheme

A design business needs to produce a regular income but can be an asset rather like a home; something to live in and enjoy but also an investment which can be sold at some point in the future.

I specialise in looking at the softer, more subtle components that increase the attractiveness, standing and appeal of your business:

  • leadership style
  • board team balance
  • succession planning
  • differentiation
  • vision
  • values
  • profile and reputation
  • exit planning

Who I work with:

I work with people who are passionate, talented, honest and eager to learn. They have businesses that they believe in but want much more in terms of growth, success, quality of life and fulfilment.

Potential is more important to me than size.

Clients have included:

Elmwood Non-Exec Chairman
Made the transition from provincial to international agency: buy out 3i, appoint CEO and open a London office.

The Partners Advisor
Improved profitability and assisted in sale of business to Y&R: partner roles, board structure, rewards, systems.

Williams Murray Hamm Advisor
Helped in setting up and funding of this award winning agency: offer, vision, value and profile enhancement.

The Team Non-Exec Chairman
Grew the company from 20-120 people, groomed the business and then orchestrated a successful sale to Loewy Group

I’m now working with the next generation of young exciting creative businesses.

“A man’s hobbies say everything about him”

My two passions are keeping bees and playing golf, and I am very competitive at both.

A colony of bees has many lessons for a business – foraging for nectar and pollen, converting it into honey, raising young and then swarming in order to create new colonies. The colony is based on teamwork, job allocation and sharing. It’s a privilege to work with such industrious and clever insects.

Golf teaches us that ego, impatience and aggression are worthless. Like life, it’s about timing, focus, humility and being at ease with yourself.

Next steps:

Do call or email me for an informal chat if you are looking for a non-exec director to help you:

  • improve the performance of your business or kick start growth, or
  • create an asset you can sell or plan an exit from your business

Case studies

How can I grow my business? – Summary

One year sales are up the next they are down – we never seem to be able to achieve consistent year on year growth that would enable us to invest in further staff to grow the business.

Research – interviewed 12 customers and 10 staff, reviewed fee proposals, observed several new business pitches.
Analysis – whilst the agency were good at winning pitches, they were poor at retaining and growing customers. Investment in new pitches was heavy and yet there was no coherent new business strategy. There were few senior account people in the business.
Action – developed a targeted new business strategy which only included clients they wanted to work for. A farming programme was put in place to ensure that customers were grown. Incentives for account people were introduced and customer growth and retention was more closely monitored and rewarded within the agency.

How can I improve my profit margin? – Summary

One year we make money, the next year we don’t. Even in a good year profit margins rarely exceed 10%. How can we get our margins up?

Research – interviewed 6 customers, all staff (25), reviewed fee proposals, reviewed financial performance, customer profitability and job performance.
Analysis – this jobbing design business was not charging enough for what it did. Whilst customers were happy with the product they were not challenged and there was little added value in the relationship. There was a lack of confidence around customers and little push back when it came to agreeing fees.
Action – re-positioned the offer as more upmarket and strategic. Re-worked fee proposals completely and increased pricing. Design briefs were questioned and challenged. 80% of profit came from 20% of the customers. Loss making customers were cast off and an incentive scheme introduced around customer profitability. They started to say NO to clients. All account people were given negotiation skills training.

Have I and my team got what it takes? – Summary

We don’t seem to be able to grow beyond 15 people. I’m not sure I have the right skills and I’m not sure I’ve got the right people around me. I founded my business straight from college and I’ve never worked with one of the big boys. Am I missing some tricks?!

Research – interviewed the top team of 5 people and personality profiled them. Interviewed 6 customers. Shadowed founder for a week and observed him in meetings.
Analysis – the founder was good but lacked confidence in himself as a businessman. He had surrounded himself with second rate lieutenants and wondered why they has second rate clients.
Action – identified the strengths and weaknesses of all the top team and redesigned their roles around these. Redefined the founders role focussing on ambassadorial and new business – helped him to work on rather than in the business. Two of the top team were given tough appraisals and eventually left the business. Head-hunted a new creative director and senior account director. New board structure was introduced alongside a new share option scheme.

Contact expert

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