Supergroup on track for the late Nineties?

Someone asked me the other day if I thought there was room for a multidisciplinary supergroup. I said yes, as long as the line-up was right and “super” didn’t just mean size. Creative spark and business acumen would have to be in there somewhere.

I could have added that a Nineties supergroup would probably differ greatly from the Eighties pioneers that arguably made design an industry. A group structure with specialist divisions was how concerns like the old Michael Peters Group operated and a stock market listing was deemed desirable. It worked in boom times, but, significantly, few of the designers who led those groups have gone for diversification in their new incarnations. Nor is there much talk of going for a listing.

We don’t know if such thoughts run through John Sorrell’s head. But while he’s been in the limelight as Design Council chairman, his consultancy Newell and Sorrell has quietly been gaining strength. The management team he and co-chairman Frances Newell put in place in 1990 is still intact, and, building on its reputation in graphics and identity projects, it recently strengthened its interiors standing through a “strategic alliance” with architectural practice Fletcher Priest (DW 12 July). Now the consultancy has shrewdly appointed luminaries Michael Wolff and Anthony Simonds-Gooding as non-executive directors (see News, page 3).

Those who know Sorrell won’t be surprised by the names. Wolff is a respected mentor, and Sorrell has already rewarded established friendships with both Wolff and Keith Priest with influential roles at the Design Council. Is Simonds-Gooding now due such an honour?

Of keener interest to designers is how the new line-up might up the stakes for a “safe” group at the upper end of the business. Everyone’s busy forming alliances – especially to handle work abroad. But my money’s on Newell and Sorrell to be among the first to come up with a blueprint for the late Nineties supergroup, a plan founded on mature talent. Time will provide the evidence.

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