Staff movement follows restructuring at DIA

Two restructurings in the last 18 months have seen some high level changes at DIA. Tom Bawden attempts to discover the real reasons behind the chain of developments.

DIA chairman Barry Salter has been restructuring at the south London consultancy – its second overhaul in just over a year.

The first rethink saw the separation of the corporate and branding divisions.

This latest is a “subtle restructure”, attempting to “simplify the main lines of communication” within the brand development and corporate communications divisions, bringing them into line with the other three divisions, says Salter.

Salter is upbeat about the changes. However, there appears to have been some fall out, with the resignations of four senior staff in the last two months, and a further two expected in the coming weeks.

According to one industry spectator, such a level of staff turnover is not so unusual in the design industry. However, there are indications that 47-strong DIA is an unhappy ship.

The latest restructuring has made corporate and brand development division directors responsible for generating new business.

As a result, creative directors Nick Ovenden and Elaine Barbrook must now report to Lynn Hall and Mark Southward, in their new capacity as divisional directors. Neither is a designer.

A collection of sources suggest that the restructures and senior management style are responsible for any discontent there might be among staff.

“I lost faith in some members of the senior management at the time,” says Sam Shahir, former creative services manager, who left the group last month after three and a half years to join Real Life.

Salter refutes allegations of low morale, noting that employees “come and go” in all companies. He accuses former employees of muck-raking. For the real story, he says, we should speak to Andrew Spencer, a senior designer at the consultancy, currently serving his notice. Spencer was sitting next to Salter at the time we spoke.

DIA was officially formed in 1984 as Design In Action by Salter, Simon Gittins and Gary Denholm. In the first ten years the consultancy grew into a sizeable outfit approaching 100 staff, and was acquired by publicly quoted Lopex Group during that period.

In 1994 Gittins and Denholm left the consultancy to form SMS Design Alliance, which later dropped the SMS from its name. They are understood to have left because they felt excluded from the running of the company, although Salter said at the time that their departure was “entirely amicable” (DW 18 February 1994).

Sources say that in the years following staff felt Salter took increasing control of the consultancy. In February 1996 creative director Mark Chittenden and director of planning David Gray accepted redundancy from DIA. They went on to set up The Creative Leap with DIA former brands director Trevor Bradford, who left the group later that year.

One former employee cites the loss of Chittenden as the major turning point for the consultancy. Salter admitted that effectively the management restructure had made Chittenden’s role redundant. His redundancy was followed by the promotion of Ovenden and Barbrook to senior creative posts, in the new two-group structure: brand development and corporate communications.

Bradford was DIA head of brand consultancy until June 1996. He was rumoured at the time to have stormed out after disagreements over the consultancy’s restructuring process (DW 28 June 1996).

While the restructuring settles, Salter has ambitious plans for the group: “We want to have three dots on the map. We have already established an office from scratch in Singapore, and we are in talks regarding an alliance in North America.”

Salter says his operation is the most profitable part of Lopex Group and DIA’s quality of work is at its best. If that is the case, DIA appears to have a serious image problem.

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