Last week, investors in a Creative Dragon’s Den competition voiced concern that design businesses are hard to scale up because they are so reliant on key people. Do you think design groups can be too personality-led?

I don’t think there are enough personalities in the design business. A risk-averse, quick-buck entrepreneur may not want to invest, but there are plenty of media companies who do, because their motives are more long-term. It’s possible to grow – the key is recognising what and whom you need to achieve it and having confidence.

Russell Lloyd, Director, Seymour Powell (pictured)

There is no getting away from the fact that in any business-to-business industry, the relationship is with people, not personalities. The agency brand should always be the totem for the business, as ‘trade celebrities’ can alienate an audience as much as they attract.

Jonathan Sands, Chairman, Elmwood

You only have to look at large, independent and group-owned businesses, such as Imagination or Wolff Olins, which have grown by engaging key people, to know this isn’t true. Yes, strong personalities can build businesses, but succession planning can and does overcome this.

Amanda Merron, Partner, Willott Kingston Smith

Strong entrepreneurial personalities provide vision and leadership – these are invaluable characteristics. But they also have to be able to manage, delegate and be financially literate, or they will never grow. Today, this is generally understood. There is no business reason why design companies can not be scaled up. However, businesses based on creative crafts skills sometimes work best in units of up to 50 people. Beyond that, it is often better to start a new unit or division than make the existing ones bigger.

Jim Surguy, Senior partner, Results International UK

We used to be scared that when one of our key designers left, we’d never be able to replace them. But every time that’s happened, someone even more interesting has appeared, as if by magic. Airside has developed a very strong personality and ethos after eight years, which isn’t attributable to any one person, but reinforced by all 11 of us. Every new person who joins seems to miraculously develop a style that is different from everyone else’s, yet still seems very ‘Airside’.

Nat Hunter, Managing director, Airside (pictured)

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