Business is a family affair for father and son

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 career path.

"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 following year.

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 daughters.

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 my father."

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 building.

"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 says.

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 way out.

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," says Tom.

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 world stage.

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