Not every design consultancy can secure column inches in the Financial Times when it announces the appointment of non-executive directors. It helps that the directors in question are Michael Wolff and Anthony Simonds-Gooding. Wolff is a name known in some circles of the wider business world beyond design. And Simonds-Gooding rings many more bells.
But it’s the name of the consultancy itself, Newell and Sorrell, and significantly chairman John Sorrell’s high profile, which secured the FT’s interest.
For many of its 20 years, Newell and Sorrell has kept its head relatively out of the media spotlight. Although high-profile within design, Newell and Sorrell was not one of the media-hungry design groups which made the headlines in the Eighties.
But now, with Sorrell’s chairmanship of the Design Council since 1994, heavyweights like Simonds-Gooding and Wolff on the board, and the secrecy-shrouded British Airways identity review, is Newell and Sorrell about to lead publicly from the frontline of design?
If and when a Newell and Sorrell-designed British Airways identity is launched, many an FT reader will turn to the consultancy. What they will find is a group with an experienced and long-serving management and a high-profile studio.
The appointments of Wolff and Simonds-Gooding are symptomatic rather than the driving force behind the consultancy’s move to the fore. But what will Wolff and Simonds-Gooding bring to the group? As the consultancy’s deputy chairman Lynne Dobney puts it: “Anthony has a wealth of experience in commerce which we would like him to offer us.”
Wolff’s weekly input is well valued. “Michael adds his bit of magic already,” says Dobney. “But we want him to do it at board meetings as well.”
According to Dobney, the news of the appointments has gone down well within the consultancy. Both men are hands-on and will rub shoulders with the less experienced in a positive way.
For Simonds-Gooding, who is building up something of a portfolio of non-executive directorships, accepting Newell and Sorrell’s offer was simple: “I like John Sorrell and I like his company,” he explains.
Michael Wolff puts his ready agreement to the offer of a boardroom role down to his long relationship with the consultancy. “I find it is much easier to work with people who you know and trust and have an affinity with.”
But, above all, says Wolff, Newell and Sorrell is “interested in the future” and has “an open mind and a willingness to change”.
Wolff sees the non-executive director role as “being part of the team that looks to the future”. He adds: “Newell and Sorrell has come to the top of a ladder. Now we are trying to find the next ladder to climb.”
Simonds-Gooding sees his role as “something of a journey into the unknown – it is a job which becomes self-defining”. He says: “I can see the business is going to expand. And growth brings problems. I can give my view and help with networking and new business – I know a lot of people.”
Simonds-Gooding adds that Newell and Sorrell “has some very interesting new business in the pipeline.”
This forward-looking approach is recognised in the industry. Back in 1987, Newell and Sorrell was among six groups cited as leading the list of consultancies which young designers aspired to work for. That still holds true, says a design recruitment source.
“The consultancy is seen as a leader in the industry, somewhere which produces quality work,” says the source. “It helps that John Sorrell is such a figurehead.
“Newell and Sorrell is not seen as some old design dinosaur – it’s perceived as going places. And you don’t hear of people leaving,” adds the source. Indeed not.
Sorrell, Frances Newell, Dobney, and several of the directors all notch up more than ten years each at Utopia Village.
Two people who did leave are Domenic Lippa and Harry Pearce, who formed Lippa Pearce in 1990. Pearce says: “Domenic and I have a lot of admiration for Newell and Sorrell – we did then and still do now. It has done some really great things over the years. It’s a very strong consultancy.”
Dobney predicts “a steady and planned growth” at Newell and Sorrell. The staff now numbers around 80, including ten in its Amsterdam office which handles much of its international work. This angle, and the promise of more work internationally, is one factor that helped hook Wolff.
The board appointments, plus Newell and Sorrell’s announcement earlier this month of a “strategic alliance” with architect Fletcher Priest, bury the rumours which, earlier this year, suggested the consultancy was up for sale.
“That was just wishful thinking on somebody’s part,” says