Why would you appoint a 27-year-old as managing director of your small business?
As an independent music company Manners McDade has its work cut out. Judging by its fearless approach to taking on the establishment, it’s no shock that the company would be pushing boundaries within its own four walls, too.
When Catherine Manners announced she was appointing Harriet Moss as managing director of the company she founded in 2001, a round of applause rippled through the industry. In a press statement released last week she said: “I never thought I would find someone who I could trust so implicitly with my business – but Harriet Moss is an extraordinary young woman and I’m incredibly proud of her.”
What an accolade. And what a statement of intent. It’s the kind of praise anyone working in the hard going and competitive field of music, media and the arts is begging to hear.
Launched in 2001 as Manners McDade Management & Agency, the company added music publishing to its output in 2006 and creative services in 2014. Its identifiable roster features edgy European composers in classical and electronic genres that challenge expectations and have naturally found fame writing for film, television, theatre and dance, advertising, and games – as well as in concert halls.
The brainchild of Catherine Manners (who has a degree in physics and music) Manners McDade has grown rapidly to occupy a cool sphere of its own in film and TV sync, neo-classical, PR and indie labels.
But what is just as exciting and fascinating about her unique business is that not only is there no glass ceiling, but that she is building staircases for her young staff whittled with her very own hands.
The appointment of Harriet Moss as managing director last week is one obvious example (then 27, she turned 28 a few days later). Since 2014, Moss has overseen the company’s creative strategy across sync, A&R and creative services, working with clients such as Neue Meister, Sony Classical, ECM and Ki Records. With a background in PR, sync and brand-building, she has worked with artists such as Max Richter, Nils Frahm, Ben Frost and These New Puritans. She is also creative director for Manners McDade’s in-house label Cognitive Shift Recordings.
It demonstrates just how unafraid Manners is of moving the limelight from herself and placing it elsewhere. In fact, Manners is more than happy to let her staff shine, something quite rare for a small business, especially one headed by a husband and wife team, like Manners McDade. And her approach has been something of a golden goose for the company.
I’m curious where her impetus comes from? What makes her different? “There is a concern that enabling staff and giving them more responsibility and visibility makes them more attractive to other companies,” she tells me over email. “But that’s not a reason not to do it. Our company ethos has always been the development of talent and I don’t think that should be limited to our composers and artists. It should also include staff.”
Manners is reassuringly honest in her reasoning, putting it down to transferring what she has learned in her domestic life into her working world. (Personally, I’ve always thought that running a family is like managing a small business and should be added to CVs.)
She explains: “I have an amazing husband in Bob McDade, who is now my co-director. He supported me when I was setting up the business on my own and became a house husband to our two children. He did everything from night feeds to packed lunches for the children and provided emotional support on a daily basis for me – the overworked business owner.
“Bob has no ego. So subconsciously, I learned from that: supporting someone you respect and admire is just as satisfying as self-achieving. So no, I’ve never been afraid of someone taking anything away from me. Every intern that we have ever had has gone on to have a great career in the music business and I’m proud of that. And if staff have left to work elsewhere, that’s because they needed to spread their wings in another direction. Life is too short to have regrets.”
As an outsider, I’ve watched Manners McDade’s growth with intrigue: contemporary music, neo classical and experimental electronic artists were for a long time seen as something to be sneered at by the classical elite or, even worse, a threat to be discouraged. But once this new sector stopped knocking on concert hall doors and found its own fanbase, it began to occupy a territory of its own, gaining airtime on mainstream stations, festival bookings, legions of followers on YouTube and Spotify and a unquantifiable cool edge that nothing other than authenticity could imitate. Suddenly, neo-classical started to make sense.
There’s now a strong movement, a crowd, an industry and fanbase around the artists Manners McDade take on. And those gatekeepers that worked so hard at keeping their core repertoire pure are now using these new artists to reach demographics that were hitherto mysterious.
Manners is certainly ahead of the game. “I think that over the last five years I’ve been able to see very clearly that each new hire has added something special to the company. We’ve never relied on an investor or a bank to fund growth, so each new staff member needs to bring something new to the business, even though we don’t ever work to financial targets.
“I work hard, I promote teamwork and I believe that a happy workforce is a productive workforce. It just so happens that we’ve ended up with an office full of incredible young women – we don’t often advertise jobs – word just gets around.”
The team is comprised of Catherine Manners, Harriet Moss, Justė Survilaitė, Jenna Fentimen, Ruby Wasmuth, Milly Paine and Clare Everson. The company were finalists in the Music Week Sync Awards team category in both 2016 and 2017.
Is it important that the team at Manners McDade is predominantly female? Is it significant that the people making a difference to her company are women? Does it matter that they are doing this in an industry that sorely lags behind when it comes to gender equity? Yes, in the context of #MeToo, pay disputes and so on, it matters, but encouragingly this is a narrative about managing talent and not gender.
“Working closely with Harriet has allowed me to grow the creative side of the business. One of the first things that Harriet did when she arrived was become very active on social media and this really has allowed us to increase our company profile. A new arm of the business, Creative Services (offering PR and sync to labels) was Harriet’s idea. As was growing the bespoke composition side within advertising, both of which required new hires. If I hear a good idea, I can very quickly and easily make it happen. Flexibility is key, as is quick decision making.
“If someone is talented they should be given the opportunity to shine – regardless of age. Harriet absolutely gets what we are trying to do at Manners McDade and having her as the face of the company shows that we practise what we preach.”
What does this mean for Manners, will she be taking a step back? “In terms of job titles, my role hasn’t changed. I’m still a director of the company, managing director is a new role. Promoting Harriet to MD and having her manage the team frees up a huge amount of my time, so that I can focus on business affairs and strategic development. Having the headspace to think creatively about the growth of the company is a game changer. And having Harriet’s input into this strategy is essential for the future of the company.”
Is there a secret to her success? “I always have and always will listen to my gut instinct. This applies to trusting staff as well as to signing a new client. I’m not always 100% right, but close enough.”