20 QUESTIONS: Adam Brown, Orlebar Brown

The swimwear designer learned how to choose a partner the hard way - but says he wouldn't have had it any other way.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 07 Feb 2014

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

I’m an unfulfilled photographer: I was a photographer before I started Orlebar Brown, and I would have liked to have made a go at it. I still do photography occasionally when I have time.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

We wouldn’t have called it anything else. The person I started with is called Julia Simpson Orlebar. The name Orlebar Brown sounded older than perhaps we were – it gave us a gravitas a new business doesn’t always have. She’s not part of the business any more: the life of an entrepreneur wasn’t one she wanted. Quite rightly, she wanted to concentrate on her three children. 

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY WHERE WOULD IT BE?

New York – it’s always been a really exciting place. I don’t speak any other languages so it’s an easy place for me to communicate. 30% of our business is already coming from America anyway.

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

The usual rule of debt, credit cards, overdraft: once we got started and we needed money, I approached angel investors. I managed to get Venrex involved - they were our first angel investors and they’ve been an integral part of the business for three and a bit years.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

Recruiting the team. I started with a particular vision: surrounding myself with people who had far more knowledge and expertise in implementing that vision has been the most important thing for me.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

Small mistakes: using a certain product which didn’t fit in with the range. At the beginning, I would make a decision based on my own gut and go with it without having that expertise. But fortunately nothing’s been too bad.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

Instagram. It shows that pictures speak louder than words.

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

I walk my dogs. I’ve got two very ratty Affenpinschers, who I walk every morning. I live in central London, so I go to Kensington Gardens.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

My first proper job was fundraising in the voluntary sector. I spent nine years doing statutory and major donor fundraising for a range of different charities.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

Washing up in a restaurant when I was 17. I did it in the evenings for two years off and on.

11. WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

This is: it’s difficult to switch off. I like giving a business oxygen. It’s seeing something come to life and making it a reality.

12. IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE, WHAT WOULD YOUR TEAM BE NAMED?

I’ve never watched The Apprentice: I don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m more of a Dragons Den person….

13. WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

Prada – it’s family owned, global and constantly inspirational.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

I wasted my money on a car. I’ve got an old Range Rover.

15. SUIT OR JEANS?

Jeans. More chinos, really. I like to be relaxed.

16. FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

Flexible working: I work from home a lot, mainly at weekends.

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE OFFICE?

The fact we allow dogs into it. Not my two dogs – they’ve been banned, they behave too badly. But other people do.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

Hailo. I’ve been using it for around 18 months. I like it because you can be sitting in a restaurant or with friends and can just book a cab.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

They’re very different but I love what Paul Smith and Ralph Lauren have done  - although not necessarily their clothes. Both have created things I can identify with in different ways.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINISTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

Bring active and effective protection of the world’s oceans to top of the agenda (see www.bluemarinefoundation.com for more information).

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