In 1985, I was a 22-year-old press photographer in a well-paid and rewarding job at the Leicester Mercury. I had excellent colleagues – and a very comfortable life. However, it was not enough for me – and I wanted to work for National Newspapers and create my own business.
So I set out to create a photo agency in the East Midlands to provide pictures for National Newspapers. The business was called East Midlands Picture Services – and was based in Nottingham. In the next 20 years, the name would be shortened to EMPICS – and it would become the largest independently-owned sports photography agency in the world.
The business was to be a partnership with my best friend. Unfortunately, as we explored getting support from banks for our new venture the response was not particularly positive. My pal decided it was not for him, so we didn’t become business partners.
Eventually, I managed to get a £2,000 overdraft from Williams & Glyn Bank (now part of RBS). The business started in June 1985 – and 20 years later I left the business after a trade sale to the Press Association.
Looking back through some old papers, I found a copy of the original business plan. It’s linked to here as a PDF. Readers might find it amusing on many levels – the language, the fact it was individually typed (well before the time of wordprocessing) and that the cashflows are handwritten on graph paper (no Excel spreadsheets in those days!).
EMPICS was not a hi-tech startup – it ended up just being me on my own in an office in Nottingham. It was not a raiser of venture capital or seed funding (although as the business grew we did have 3i as a VC investor and a business angel). However, it was a leap into the unknown – and a roller coaster ride. To be recommended – to the brave…
In the autumn of 1994, I decided to “hang up my cameras”. EMPICS was growing as a business – and it needed me at base. I’d tried to bring in senior managers to take on my role – but that was not successful (probably my fault rather than theirs). I also felt it was time […]
In 1992, I was approached by Peter Robinson, FIFA’s Official Photographer for many years – and a personal friend. He had been asked to find a photographer to work with UEFA and TEAM Marketing on their new concept of the UEFA Champions League. He felt as FIFA’s photographer, he could not get involved – and […]
One of the best trips of my life was to to photograph the return to international sport of South Africa, after the end of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela. I accompanied the team to India – and the experience was unforgettable. We arrived late at night in Calcutta. We had a long time […]
In the late 90s, there was a lot of pressure on photography agencies. It seemed likely that sports rights holders would lock out photographers – and create/sell their own photography. We pursued a strategy to work closer with these rights holders – and provide them with solutions that might benefit their business. Hutchison 3G had […]
The entry of Getty Images and Corbis (100% owned by Bill Gates) into the photography business in the mid-90s set us on a fairly inevitable course of a trade sale. Getting venture capital and angel finance on board at the end of the 1990s also dictated this route. It was a testing process. From 1997 […]