Colin Tweedy - Arts & Business - CEO of the organisation that effects arts sponsorship

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013


When I took over at Arts & Business (then AB SA) in 1983, it was a two-man operation run from an office above a teashop in Bath. The setup was very nice but I didn't feel it was right for us. I approached the government with a proposal for a matching grant programme. If the government could give us a grant, I could double it by raising money from businesses.

Lord Gowrie, minister for the arts at the time, was keen on the idea, but the Arts Council was set against it. They felt they alone should be able to give out public money to the arts.

They knobbled our then chairman Lord Goodman, who had supported my idea. The result was that he called me on the day we were due to announce the scheme and said he would resign if we went ahead. Lord Gowrie's response was that it was my head above the parapet. I launched it anyway. Goodman didn't resign, and we've gone from two staff to 120, with London offices and business sponsorship worth £120 million in the past 12 months.


As we were expanding nationally, I decided to franchise part of the business. We were called ABSA at the time, so we set up a subsidiary company, Business and the Arts, and the regional franchises used that name. Yet they started to become our competitors.

It cost us money because we had to buy the franchises back, which cost about £100,000. It damaged the branding because they had the better name, so we changed our name to Arts & Business - which led to confusion. And it cost us time: it took us five years to buy them all back. Even now, there are three offices that aren't ours.

It was a brilliant idea, but I hadn't thought through the delivery mechanism. I learnt that you have to have everything under your control, and that although I was running a not-for-profit organisation, I had to run it as a real business. Brand values, brand awareness, selling the product and delivery are all very important. I learnt the hard way, and I'm still learning. It's taken me a long time to claw back on that 1989 decision.

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