Ling Design managing director reflects on his career
The Ling Design team presented Ian Bant with a special retirement cake last week, as he bids farewell to the people he has worked with for the past 16 years. The cake took on the theme of a cruise ship, as Ian and his wife Gaynor will be travelling more in retirement, including a four month round-the-world cruise in 2018.
Ian started his career in July 1979 aged 24 when he joined The Andrew Brownsword Collection as sales representative for the south west. He jokes: “Unknown to me at the time was that the south west extended to Manchester and beyond!” These were the early years in which the company was developing the Forever Friends brand. Ian came off the road in 1981 to assist Andrew in running the business. “It was an amazing thing to be part of. I didn’t really appreciate the significance of Forever Friends at the time – we were running all the time just to keep up! It’s now when I look back that I’m proud to say ‘I was part of that’.”
In 1989 when Andrew Brownsword acquired The Gordon Fraser Gallery Ian was appointed managing director. “The Gordon Fraser years were fantastic as with a strong management team we converted a well-respected, but ailing business into a huge success,” says Ian. In 1994 when the Brownsword and Gordon Fraser businesses were sold to Hallmark Cards Ian became managing director of Hallmark Cards and the Gordon Fraser Gallery.
After being made redundant in 1999 by Hallmark, Ian joined forces again with Andrew Brownsword and spent two years out of the industry in a commercial role with Bath Rugby Club. “But I missed greeting cards,” says Ian. “So when Julian Nash [chairman of Ling Design] approached me and asked if I’d like to take over from William McCracken, who was retiring as managing director, I jumped at the chance.”
Since then Ian has steered Ling through the acquisitions of Talking Pictures, Penny Kennedy and Velvet Olive, growing the business from £2 million turnover in 2001 to £8 million today. He was retained as managing director when Swan Mill Paper Company bought the business in 2015.
Reflecting on changes in the industry Ian muses: “Of course there have been a lot of changes, especially in technology, but a lot has stayed the same. Relationships are still as important as they ever were and good service is the key to doing business. It’s still very much a design-led industry and some of the innovations coming through in design are truly cutting edge.”
That’s not to say there are no challenges: “The market is very challenging today. We’re still feeling the effects of the recession, which isn’t helped by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the exchange rates. But I think the outlook for the sector is extremely positive. It will be hard to keep growing the volume, but the value can keep going up. Britain’s love of the greeting card has not lessened, and if anything, is even stronger than ever.”
Ian finishes with Ling Design on Friday 30 June and hands over to new managing director Alessandro Arosio.
Pictured at top: Ian and his retirement cake made by Sarah Moise, the wife of Ling sales rep, Freddie Moise