Discs firm struck the right note

October 5th 06, 10:03

SCHOOL held so little interest for Sean Fergusson that when his GCSE results came out he didn’t even bother to find out his grades. To this day he still does not know.

“We had to fill in a form asking for our results to be forwarded to our addresses and I didn’t fill it in,” he said. “I wasn’t interested at all. I just wanted to leave school and get on with my life.”

Fergusson was an active child and formal schooling did not suit him. “I wouldn’t say I was bad, but I was the joker in the class and was always being sent to stand in the corner,” he said.

At the age of nine his world was torn apart when his parents divorced and he and his younger sister Fiona moved to Lyme Regis, Dorset, with their mother.

“That was a challenging time for me because I felt I wanted to become a father figure for my sister but also to be a big brother at the same time,” he said.

They saw their father, a successful businessman who sold computer software, only a couple of times a year.

But by the time Fergusson left school at 15 he knew he wanted to go into business too. “I wanted to rebel against my business-studies teacher, who told me that I would fail and not do anything with my life unless I buckled down and worked. That was what gave me the challenge,” he said.

Most of his friends spent the summer after leaving school enjoying themselves but Fergusson got a job in a furniture shop in nearby Axminster.

He stayed there a year until his mother moved the family to Southampton to give him and his sister a better opportunity in life. Once there, he got a job with a clothing company in the Burton group and after six months was promoted to the flagship Top Man store in London’s Oxford Circus.

He loved it. By the age of 18 he was area sales manager for the company in southeast England and within three years was area manager. He said: “It was fast-paced and really good fun.”

He then moved to a company that sold CDs and DVDs and realised he had found his niche. After four years, and by now 30, he decided he knew enough to start his own business.

“I just felt that there was a huge niche in the marketplace where people would want to deal with one supplier instead of five. I realised that there were manufacturers out there who were interested only in making discs, and printers who were interested only in filling up their printing lines, but there was nobody who offered both.”

His solution was to start a company making CDs and DVDs for businesses to give away to customers as marketing tools. He hoped that his firm would stand out from its rivals because it provided a complete service, from making the disc, to packaging it, storing it and distributing it.

Fergusson started the business in 2002 with £30,000 of savings, which he calculated would support him and the firm for the first six months. Then he rented a converted barn in Hampshire as office premises.

He said: “I was walking round the barn courtyard and it didn’t seem like I was running a business. It was not stressful at all.”

He called his company Brandedmedia because he felt it was a name that had the potential to expand into other areas.

His first commission was to replicate a CD for a client, package it and send it to all the client’s customers. Other work soon followed and by the end of the first year he had achieved sales of £1m and recruited four staff.

He faced some difficult decisions in the early days. “Some of the hardest times were at the beginning when clients were really keen to place work with us but were asking for credit that we just couldn’t provide. It was such a gamble. They would want £50,000 to £100,000 credit from us and we would think, well that’s fine, but if you don’t pay us then we will go under. Gambles like that, which you have to take, either make you or break you.”

Brandedmedia will have a turnover of £4.5m this year and has 45 employees and 1,200 clients.

Fergusson thinks the secret of his success was going into an industry that he already knew well. “My learning curve was back in my retail days when I learnt so much about how to get the best out of people.”

He is also very driven. “I am a highly motivated person. I am the sort of person who is always setting new targets and personal goals; and I believe that if you can get your team to think like you and buy into your dream, then you are on to a winner.”

Despite his parents’ divorce, he thinks he has benefited from the influence of both. “There are two parts to me — my father is a businessman and whenever I saw him he was always very smart and had a nice car. Even back then I knew I wanted to be able to afford some nice things in my life. But then my mother was always very caring and supported me in whatever I wanted to do. She never once said ‘no, you can’t do that’.”

Now 34, married with one child and with another on the way, Fergusson has also managed to keep his pledge to look after his sister, who works for his company.

He is determined to recreate the happy family life he feels he missed out on as a child. “My family is really important to me,” he said. “I want to build a wonderful family round me so that we can have wonderful Christmases and all the rest of it. I dream of days like that.”

Source: Times Online

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