Profile: Dyson: quiet, competitive and in the black! - Text 100 CEO Tim Dyson has built quite a dollars 40 million PR empire over the past seven years. Just imagine how much more he could do if he didn’t have to take a billiards break every 20 min

’Anarchic.’

’Anarchic.’

’Anarchic.’



It’s not the word you might expect the CEO of a multinational

corporation - and a PR pro at that - to use in describing his company’s

culture. But for Text 100’s Tim Dyson, who proudly declares that he and

his staff ’all have attention deficit disorder,’ and who can’t work for

longer than twenty minutes at a time without taking a break to play

pool, constant chaos is a good thing.



’It’s very important that we continue to challenge commonly-held ideas

to do the most creative work, and that we make change available to

everyone,’ he explains.



This disdain for traditional thinking has translated to solid results

for London-based Text 100. In the seven years since Dyson took the helm

at the hi-tech powerhouse, Turning down numerous approaches to buy the

business, Text has grown to 29 offices in 15 countries with more than

400 employees worldwide. During this time, this young (39), quiet,

studious Brit has relocated the HQ to Seattle (home of its biggest

client, guess who?) and hatched a half-dozen subsidiary ’sister brands’

like Joe Public Relations and EVUS. Continuing its march across Asia

Pacific and North America, the company will open another two US offices

in 2000, including a Manhattan outpost by this spring.





Driven to compete



Despite (or perhaps because of) the rapid expansion, Dyson has

consistently kept Text 100 in the black. In an industry full of hot air,

Text has reported a profit every year since 1985. In the US, this year’s

pre-tax earnings rose 2,000% and revenues increased 94% to dollars 5.8

million; globally, revenues rose 42% to dollars 38 million. To put that

in context, it makes Text 100 of a similar size to Waggener, Edstrom and

Brodeur. The firm capped off the year with a successful flotation on the

London Stock Exchange and was trading at just under four pounds as

PRWeek went to press. In addition, in perhaps the tightest PR job market

of the past 30 years, Text 100 boasted a turnover rate in 1999 of just

6.5%, well below the industry average.



The fact that Text 100 has taken the lead and grown so quickly surprises

few who know Dyson well. Whether carving up the ski slopes or racing his

Porsche down the autobahn, Dyson is ’maniacally competitive,’ says

Matthew Ravden, who runs the firm’s Asia Pacific operations. ’I remember

racing with him once,’ Ravden recalls. ’There was quite a bit of

traffic, so it was pretty dangerous. We were both racing toward a gap

between two trucks, and it was a battle of nerves to see who would give

up. Tim wasn’t going to give; he was virtually putting his life on the

line to put one over on me.’



And it’s not just his blatant disregard for life and limb that sets

Dyson apart. For example, unlike nearly every other major multinational

agency in this age of merger mania, Text 100 steadfastly pursues organic

growth rather than acquisitions. Every one of the company’s nearly 30

branches was home-sprouted.



’To be honest, I don’t have the skills for mergers and acquisitions. I

have always felt more comfortable in the house I built from scratch,’

explains Dyson, who also believes that Text’s spin-off strategy has

helped ’keep your best people interested and invested in the

company.’



That’s not to say that launching new ventures never goes without a

hitch.



Such was the case with August One, the brand launched last summer that

split dollars 8 million of Text’s UK billings and all of its blue chip

global accounts in Europe away from the mothership. ’It was a nightmare

putting that together,’ Dyson admits. ’These were some of our oldest

clients and longest-standing employees. But we are a company that likes

to put obstacles in our way.’



Even though he presides over an ever-expanding global empire, Dyson

professes to hate hierarchy. And a look around the Seattle office he

calls home base confirms this: all staff, from account coordinators to

the GM, sit in clusters, sans cubicle walls, and Dyson’s tiny

bare-walled office just off the main room is far from the palatial space

typically accorded the leader of a multimillion-dollar business.



’We are a meritocracy; we have the smartest people making decisions, not

just those with the director titles,’ Dyson points out.



Similarly, he rejects the idea that his US-based employees, because of

the greater maturity of PR as a business discipline here, provide the

best solutions. ’There’s a danger in thinking that people in the less

developed markets are less creative,’ he says.





A born leader



This CEO’s belief in talent over titles likely stems in some part from

his own background. Born in an East African village to a father who

served as a district officer in what were then British colonies, Dyson

jokes about ’having empire-building in my genes.’ But he landed in PR

almost on a whim. Having just graduated from London’s Loudborough

University, Dyson says he saw an ad for an opening and rode his bike

down to a cottage by the river, the original home of the fledgling Text

100. Without knowing a scrap about PR or technology, the former finance

student signed on for a ride that would last the next 15 years.



Neither Dyson nor his most ardent supporters claim that his management

style is without flaw. ’He hates micro-management, and is not as

interested in the follow-through of great ideas as he is at being the

thought leader for them,’ says Aedhmar Hynes, president of Text’s North

America operations.



Also, some think this reluctance to toot his own horn might be keeping

him from greater glory. ’Sometimes I think Tim is his own worst PR

manager because he is so anonymous. He has worked side by side with some

of the industry titans, but he has a total lack of desire to promote

himself,’ says iManage VP of marketing Owen Carton, a longtime friend

and client.



This humility, however, has also won Dyson many fans - especially among

his employees. But don’t let the quiet side fool you. In five years,

Dyson projects that Text 100 will have 1,500 employees in 60-80 offices

globally. ’Notice I said nothing about being acquired,’ he quips.



And if suitors do come calling, they better bring their pool cues.



TIM DYSON CEO

Text 100

1984

Joins Text 100 straight from college

1992

Named CEO

1995

Text 100 opens first US office in Seattle

1998

Sister brands Joe Public Relations and EVUS launched

1999

Flotation on the London Stock Exchange



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