Branding designer and consultant has the cool Scandinavian touch

Small Business - Inside track Gerard Whelan, MD, Brandcentral

Gerard Whelan, managing director of Brandcentral

Gerard Whelan, managing director of Brandcentral


What is unique about your business? My international experience. I’ve done a lot of work in Scandinavia and a global project for Johnson & Johnson. A lot of design agencies offer high quality but international experience is more unique.

What has been your biggest challenge? Cash-flow. Often on the books it looks like I am doing really well, but the money mightn’t have come in. I have to ensure I get paid as quickly as possible, and that a project doesn’t run on too long. Usually in the design industry, designers work on credit. Thus, I often don’t get paid for a project until it is done.

I’ve had times when people didn’t pay me. One time I even flew to Stockholm to see if I could get money out of someone, but he wasn’t there.

What has been your biggest success? There have been several. Securing the contract for the Danish Advertising Awards was probably the biggest job I’ve done. I had to do a tough three-hour interview in English and Danish and I only had basic Danish.

I competed against several big American agencies for a Johnson & Johnson project and got the job. It was quite a rigorous process with a lot of interviews.

I also worked for a royal but I can’t say what country.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business? Moving back to Ireland at the height of the downturn. I was living in Denmark and had just landed a huge contract which I didn’t get to capitalise on. My portfolio was geared towards the Danish market as was my website.

What key piece of advice would you give to someone starting a business? I talked to a business consultant. He told me that a lot of clients are not aware of what good design is. They need to be able to justify their decision for hiring you. After that I realised I needed to start getting references and entering competitions.

Who do you admire most in business and why? I admire the agency Johnson Banks because they ignore fads and passing fashions, focusing instead on producing strong conceptual work that stands the test of time.

They have produced award winning work within very varied business categories, along with all this they have won a black pencil (D&AD Awards) for that alone they deserve huge respect.

I am also quite inspired by the 1970s formula racing car driver James Hunt, as he did things his own way. He did not compromise, took risks and showed incredible determination.

In your experience are the banks lending to SMEs currently? I am trying to avoid the banks like the plague. I’d rather not owe them any money for as long as possible.

What advice would you give to the Government? I don’t think the JobBridge scheme is enough for graduates as the pay is too low. That’s why they emigrate. The Government needs to improve that scheme.

What is the short-term future of your business? I want to change around my website and make it more responsive for smartphone use.

I would love to work with more artisan food suppliers and more packaging products.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it? I would definitely sell it. I love what I do. If I was bought out, I would like to stay on and keep working.

In conversation with Pamela Newenham