Many entrepreneurs grew up idolising their parents
and Father's Day is the perfect time to appreciate the inspiration
and guidance dads provide. Here we speak to a father and son
who run their businesses together.
Growing up as one of six children, Tom Dudderidge always looked
up to his father, Phil, and his business accomplishments, but as a
young boy he had no idea how closely he would follow his dad's
"When I first started my business, I didn't really see the
relevance of my family background in what I was doing although it
was there," he says.
Phil dropped out of school at 16 and began working with bands as
a roadie and sound technician in the late sixties. In 1973 he
co-founded Soundcraft Electronics a company specialising in sound
and recording mixing consoles. Soundcraft became one of the leading
manufacturers of mixing consoles in the world. Phil sold this
company in 1988 and launched Focusrite Audio Engineering the
Focusrite Audio Engineering has two brands under it: Focusrite and
Novation. Twenty years ago, Focusrite made
mixing consoles for the recording studio, but with the change in
technology it has moved increasingly towards products for people
who are using computers to record. Novation creates synthesisers
and controller keyboards for musicians
"Today we are addressing a market that goes from the amateur to
the professional using Macs and PCs to record with," says Phil.
"Our customers include lots of famous names and lots of people
you've never heard of and never will."
Tom followed his father's path of dropping out of school at a
young age and helped build a successful computer mail-order
business. Then, in 2004 he founded Disruptive Limited, aged 26, out
of a small unused room in his father's Focusrite Audio Engineering
office. Under Disruptive Limited, he created the GEAR4 brand. Today,
GEAR4 is the UK's leading Apple audio and accessories brand,
selling products in over 50 countries with a turnover of over £30m.
Tom also has a large family. He and his wife have four
He doesn't think it is a coincidence that he has followed in his
father's footsteps. "He is my idol after all, and my life has
been similar to his; from leaving school at a similar age,
to starting my own business quite young and having lots
of children," says Tom. "My wife always jokes I'm trying to be
Eventually Disruptive Limited outgrew their space in the
Focusrite office and moved to its own building down the road.
Then, about four years ago, both businesses needed more space
around the same time so Phil and Tom decided to share a larger
"In the beginning we were borrowing space from dad, then we flew
the nest like any son should at some point and then, four years ago
now, we moved into this building together as equal partners in the
building," explains Tom.
Sharing a building has led to a common company culture between
the two businesses. Tom describes this culture as
"Google-like." Disruptive Limited and Focusrite Audio
Engineering share a cafe where employees can get breakfast and
lunch for free.
"If you ask the staff of both companies what makes us special,
generally people would say the family feel," says Phil.
Although their businesses are about the same size,
Tom believes there are times when his father lends his advice
or points out an issue that may be developing. "As the junior
member of the family I have a lot to learn," he says.
But this inspiration works both ways. "About five years
ago, I woke up to the fact that Tom's business was growing rapidly
while mine was languishing a little bit. It created a little bit of
a sense of competition," explains Phil.
At that time, Phil was serving as the chairman of Focusrite
Audio Engineering instead of being involved with the day-to-day
operations. This realisation prompted Phil to take back the
position of managing director and refocus the business in an upward
direction. Since then, Focusrite Audio Engineering has grown
extremely well straight through the recession.
"It was definitely an intended or an unintended kick up the
backside from my son that got me motivated and focused again," he
The two companies are actually very complementary. They are both
innovators in software and hardware in products around music. The
difference is Focusrite Audio Engineering caters to music on the
way into the computer versus GEAR4, which focuses on music on the
GEAR4 and Foucusrite even had the opportunity to collaborate on
a project last year. GEAR4 wanted to make a product that would
allow iPhone and iPad users to plug their device into a small
keyboard and record music on the go. They realized that Focusrite
Audio could create an app that would serve as a synthesizer.
Ultimately, Focusrite Audio made the software, while GEAR4 made the
hardware and marketed the product.
"It was the first time that there was a product we wanted to
make where a big chunk of the competence existed right upstairs,"
While Disruptive Limited and Focusrite Audio Engineering are
leaders in their fields within the UK. Tom and Phil both hope their
businesses achieve "German Hidden Champions Status" of a small to
medium-sized enterprise that is the best in class and operate on a