Andrew Missingham is the co-founder of creative management consultancy B+A, which works with companies including Google, Nike, Punchdrunk and Beats by Dre.
B+A’s trademarked product, Culture Divided, allows business leaders to understand and nurture their internal culture, a subject on which Missingham is a regular commentator.
So, we caught up with the drummer and music producer turned serial entrepreneur to ask him about his storied career and current role.
Please describe your job: what do you do?
Andrew Missingham: At B+A we don’t have departments, and the closest we have to a job title is that everyone is called a “problem solver” (including me). What we do is research carefully and listen hard. Whether we’re working with businesses, charities, or arts organisations, problem solving runs through everything we do.
But if I was to characterise my role, I guess what I do (in addition to the problem solving) is to creatively direct the business. This is built on my first work identity as an artist, and is the culmination of over 30 years experience of producing records, running a venue, curating events, and being an entrepreneur, starting a number of other businesses before B+A.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Andrew Missingham:I have a tattoo on my arm that sums up what I believe it takes to be successful: ‘live to listen, listen to learn, learn to share’ (it was the first tattoo designed by the typographer, Swifty). At B+A we teach our people to listen with all five senses. That’s not just listening to what your clients need, or what people around you need, it’s about listening to your team, spotting opportunities, and finely tuning holistic listening over time. I have made it my life’s work is to be a better listener, partly because, without work, I wouldn’t be very good at it!
B+A is the eighth business I’ve started, but the first that has been properly successful. Let’s just say that the preceding seven have been “learning experiences”. B+A is successful partly because it stands on years of (sometimes) bitter experience, where I’ve discovered that if you can’t bank the money, at least bank the learning. B+A’s job is to constantly learn and synthesise what we hear. Learning is crucial to creating a successful business.
And you learn in order to share, but you must be prepared to let go, and to upskill those around you – colleagues and clients alike. Nothing in what we do is about taking credit. I believe it takes generosity to run the kind of management consultancy 21st century businesses deserve.
Tell us about a typical working day…
Andrew Missingham:It begins with looking at what’s happened in Portland, at our US office, overnight. If I’m up early enough I have a WhatsApp conversation with Ben to see what’s been going on there. Afterwards, I catch up with Amanda in Shanghai, where we have our Asian office, to see how her day is shaping up.
I then cycle or run to our office in Shoreditch. I check in with Alex, who runs our people and projects, as a first port of call, to see whether there is anything urgent to address here in London. It’s very rare that we have a full complement of team members in the office, as there are always people out in the field doing research for our clients.
We have a ‘B+A Balance’ meeting on Mondays. It’s an open meeting for the team to bond, share interesting things, any concerns, and how they’re feeling emotionally. For the rest of the week, we get stuck into work. Today is a really good example. This morning I ran a workshop for a client with people dialling in from Copenhagen, Berlin, Tel Aviv and Johannesburg, as well as having people in the room. Next, I briefed a designer about a project we’re starting work on next month for a cultural client in LA. After this chat I’m going to meet a charity client’s CEO, as we’re building their ten-year strategy. After that, I’m heading back to Google to brief their head of marketing on a workshop we’re running for their senior management team next week.
Early this evening I’m off to farewell drinks for the Head of the PRS Foundation, Vanessa Reed, who is moving to New York – I want to see her off with a glass of wine. I’ll get home at around 11pm, probably check in with Ben (again – really, we talk more often sometimes than me and my wife!), and go to sleep.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
Andrew Missingham:There is nothing I don’t love about this job. As I said, B+A is my eighth business, and I’ve found a work-home here. It feels like the logical destination of a whole load of pathways, cul de sacs, and explorations explored in the 32 years since I graduated.
What I love most of all are the team of people this job brings me into contact with. When I say ‘the team’, I’m talking both about our team who have dedicated their working life to B+A, and also about the clients – they’re part of the team too. We work very much in partnership with them, and the fact that many clients are friends now is testament to that. Clichéd as it may sound, our business truly is a people business.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Andrew Missingham:We write a fresh business plan every year and summarise it down to one line, so we can remember it. For instance, in our first year, our plan was ‘prove the concept’ – did Ben and I get on (yes), and did people want to buy what we aimed to sell (no). In this, our sixth year, our business plan can be summarised as ‘next generation leadership’. Unless we establish leaders throughout the business now, Ben and I will become a bottleneck. This is going to be tested over the years ahead in terms of whether our people feel they have sufficient guidance, autonomy, and a sense of an agency, and are able to drive success that Ben and I couldn’t alone.
Success for us is simple: are we making enough money to take the most independent decisions we can? Can we choose our clients, and choose our people, in line with our vision? At this moment in time, we can. In addition to our corporate clients, we have just taken our first contract with Manchester International Festival and are currently midway through a year long project with the charity Marie Stopes International. That’s seriously rewarding.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Andrew Missingham:Small SaaS utilities that mean you can be anywhere and still work effectively. Accounting software such as Xero, project management systems such as Monday, and file management systems such as Box, allow you to work and connect anywhere in the world. Global stability, that allows safe international travel, if you can call that a tool, is also something that our business would really miss by its absence.
We’ve also recently created a tool called NoBoa, that allows us to explore and synthesise multi-language survey data extremely quickly and effectively. I’m really excited about the new doors that this is going to open to us, as it radically lowers the barrier to entry for effective data analysis.
How did you end up at B+A, and where might you go from here?
Andrew Missingham:As I’ve alluded to, my career path has been far from linear. I studied performance arts, and jumped around various creative roles, including managing jazz musicians in post-Apartheid South Africa. I was a music project manager for the British Council and director of performing arts at London’s ICA. Like the diversity that’s a USP of our team, Ben and I are very different, but share common values. There’s 15 years between us, and we come from different sides of the tracks, with very different approaches – but we click, and work incredibly well together.
Ben and I have always had a vision that rather than creating gargantuan centres, we would like to have smaller, more agile teams in more places. A second US office on the east coast, and a larger presence in Shanghai, could be priorities. In line with our view of diversity, we will certainly be looking to grow the team, not so much in number as in perspective. This allows us to continue to expand the worlds we can explore rapidly and with credibility.
What creatively has impressed you lately?
Andrew Missingham:The re-emergence of the London jazz scene as a genuine youth culture – exemplified by people like Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia and Moses Boyd. People have a renewed hunger for live experiences, and they seem to crave challenge in art. It’s quite remarkable.
Any advice for people looking to get into your line of work?
Andrew Missingham:Every part of your identity and experience is relevant – so beware of the trap of intersectionality. Of course, you define yourself as a combination of all the things you are, but those individual elements are really important. I’m a Portuguese-Australian Londoner, a father, a foster child, a drummer, and (like everyone) I am truly unique. But each part of my identity gives me the gift of a bridge to look beyond myself, and seek out the common ground with others. In a world where people seem to live in filter bubbles on an ever lengthening Overton Window, it’s important to remember that.