What's in a name?

A new book profiles eponymous founders of businesses, including JCPR's Jackie Cooper. Co-author and VCCP partner Charles Vallance explains all.

Charles Vallance and Nellie
Charles Vallance and Nellie

Over the course of the past year and a bit, David Hopper and I interviewed 13 people who made their name by making their name into a brand. People like Paul Smith, Jackie Cooper, James Dyson, Emma Bridgewater, Tim Bell, John Hegarty, Jonathan Warburton and Johnnie Boden.

The result is what we call The Branded Gentry; people who aren't known by the land they own, but by the brand they have become.

The eponymous founder has an inevitably heightened sense of accountability: when your product literally has your name on it, there is nowhere to hide if you balls up. But the influence of the eponymous founder extends much further than quality control because it shapes the entire ethos of the company. Some of our individuals command an almost cult-like status, acting as corporate oracles.

Others are simply eccentric, looking for the same borderline barminess in those around them.

Unlike many captains of industry, it seems eponymous founders are not interested in control or in taking things over. They aren't driven by the need for relentless growth or corporate scale.

For the most part they show surprisingly little impulse to be in control of everything, or indulge in micro-management.

Indeed, more often, they embrace chaos - perhaps at times even courting it, instinctively attracted by risk more than safety.

They are un-control freaks.

The fact that they have chosen to use their own name is emblematic of their love of risk because eponymy is one more red flag to wave at fate; one more piece of personal responsibility that did not have to be staked.

Is the eponymous brand going out of fashion in the agency world? Much of the evidence would suggest so. Despite Jackie Cooper and Tim Bell, many of the newer arrivals go for more abstract, esoteric names.

Will proper names ever come back? Well, if something has gone out of fashion, the only certainty is that eventually it will come back in.

Charles Vallance, co-author of The Branded Gentry and founding partner of VCCP

Read exclusive extracts from Jackie Cooper's chapter.

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