A working partnership is similar to a marriage

We can learn a lot from James Beveridge’s departure from CDT Design less than two months after joining as creative partner. For CDT bringing in Beveridge helped to build its creative leadership; for Beveridge it meant regaining the independence he felt was lost when his former consultancy, The Partners, was acquired first by global advertising group Young & Rubicam and subsequently by WPP Group. What looks good on paper doesn’t always work out in practice when senior creative positions are at stake.

We will probably never know officially why Beveridge quit CDT after voicing his belief in independent consultancies (DW 8 November 2001). Perhaps CDT simply isn’t the one for him or maybe he should follow the lead of Shaun Dew and Steve Gibbons, his former co-partners at The Partners, and set up his own business.

But coming out of one strong established culture into another doesn’t always work, however good your credentials, and the more senior you are the more difficult the transition. It didn’t work, for example, for Franco Bonadio, now happily ensconced as creative head of smaller independent C21, in his short stint as managing creative director at Enterprise IG after quitting rival branding giant Landor Associates. By contrast, Jon Turner appears to be thriving as executive creative director at Enterprise IG, despite its tough commercial outlook. Perhaps Turner’s six years’ experience on the client side at The Body Shop has given him a harder edge to balance his inherent creativity.

Beveridge’s latest move shows it isn’t just a potential clash with commercial colleagues that can push a top creative over the edge. It can be just as bloody at a creatively led consultancy like CDT. Even exemplary independent consultancy Pentagram has been through it, with short-lived partners such as Howard Brown, David Pocknell and Peter Saville who didn’t fit the mould. The quality of their work is beyond doubt, but their way of working was patently incompatible.

Even developing your own talent doesn’t always work – take Design House’s experience with former creative director Marcus Haslam and Justin Banks’ short role at the then Williams Murray Banks (now Williams Murray Hamm). But there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with those who depart prematurely.

It’s rather like a marriage. Whatever form the courtship takes, you can’t guarantee the partnership will survive the honeymoon. It’s a case of both parties being open with each other from the start – and writing in a get-out clause that can be activated quickly and painlessly if things don’t work out.

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