When one of the world’s most successful theatre owners and producers gives you an insight into how to run a prosperous business, you can’t help but sit up and take notice.
Jennie Jordan (left) takes questions for Rosemary Squire OBE (right) at LCBS
That’s exactly what happened when Rosemary Squire, OBE, visited DMU’s Leicester Castle Business School (LCBS) and delivered a candid account of her journey from programme seller to the Queen of the West End.
Dr Squire, who with her husband Sir Howard Panter, topped The Stage 100 Power List for a record seven years running, was taking part in one of a series of talks and Q&As under the banner Visionary Leadership in Challenging Times.
She was made an Honorary Doctor of Arts at DMU last summer by the Faculty of Art, Design and Humanities, in recognition of her entrepreneurial drive and spirit. So she was pleased to return to DMU and the newly opened Leicester Castle Business School - based in the opulent surroundings of Leicester Castle’s Great Hall - to answer questions from an audience of students and staff, presided over by Jennie Jordan, a senior lecturer in Creative Industries at the school.
Dr Squire outlined her rise to the top - the business founded with Sir Howard, ATG, now has 45 venues in Britain, America and Australia – saying it was based on a strong business opportunity that she and her husband identified in 1991.
“If you had two commercial flops in a row then you were looking at going out of business. It [theatre] was a risky place to work,” she explained.
“But we were convinced there was a strong business opportunity for an integral model when it came to putting on live theatre.
“That was combining theatre production, the owning and operating of the theatres (including selling drinks and food in the theatre) and the ticketing business. We decided to risk everything, bring our combined skills together and, when the opportunity came, we went for it.”
Dr Squire also explained how ATG had always concentrated on promoting each individual theatre as its own brand.
She said: “We have never invested in the ATG brand. The theatre needs to be very much at the heart of a community. People go to see what is on stage, not what ATG is doing. So if you are promoting Martin Freeman in Richard III that is what you spend the money on.”
ATG once came in for criticism from a prominent director who had dubbed the company the Ryanair of the theatre world, but Dr Squire was, again, frank when asked to give her view on the comparison.
Rosemary Squire OBE with students after her talk at LCBS
“When you are the largest you have to have broad shoulders. Everyone likes to take a pop at you,” she said. “I would say Ryanair has democratised air travel. I would argue we have made high quality theatre more accessible to people in the UK than ever before.”
When the questions were opened to the floor, the audience was keen to hear Dr Squire’s approach to starting a business.
“For any entrepreneur starting out I would say allow yourself a bit of time,” Dr Squire advised. “Indulge yourself. Think about what your vision is. Give that idea some colour and texture. Make it 3D in your head. If you have a clear picture you can see different paths [to achieving success].
“We had a very simple premise. Theatre is too fragmented. Bring it together in a joined-up business. And it worked. There are many twists and turns and you have to be prepared for them. So do your homework and be ready to run with [your idea] when the opportunity comes your way.”
Dr Squire revealed the things she was most proud of were her three children, giving millions of people a great evening in the theatre and giving people an opportunity, such as Olivier-nominated Sonia Freedman who she had seen rise to the top.
Meanwhile, three keys to leadership were always having an open door, developing the ability to read something, remember it and act on it, and being able to write properly, so that you can clearly express an idea.
But perhaps the recurring theme about success was summed up by Dr Squire towards the end of her talk.
“I am of a school of thought that you have to earn your spurs,” she concluded. “You have to do the crappy jobs on the way up. You have to do the rotten hours. When you have done it, and know what it is like, you can know and respect the job when other people do it. How you manage change comes from having an understanding of what it is you are changing. So it helps to have done the job.”
The next Visionary Leadership in Challenging Times event at Leicester Castle Business School is on Wednesday 5 April with Dr David Llewellyn of Loughborough University.
The event is free but you must book your place in advance here
Posted on Thursday 16th March 2017