11 November 2018
Les Miserables? Not a chance…
In the first interview from Insight’s new ‘How I did it’ series, B P Collins talks to Bryan Raven, Managing Director (MD) of White Light Ltd, the company that has provided lighting for the theatre industry for many years, including Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, and has diversified more recently into the corporate presentation and theme park sectors. We learn how Bryan got to where he is today and what he would be doing if he wasn’t MD.
How did you go from working in the hire dept to becoming MD?
When I joined the company there were only 17 of us so we all did a bit of everything – I certainly remember driving the van up to the BBC about two weeks after I started as I was the only person who was available. Coming up through the ‘ranks’ has huge advantages, as I have a great understanding of the workings of the company. There is obviously a downside in that I haven’t really known any other company. But in recent years this has improved massively as we have been growing and therefore bringing in lots of people from other companies from both inside and outside the entertainment technology industry.
What’s the hardest part of the job?
I don’t think I would have been here for over 30 years if it wasn’t fun. I will be honest and say we had more fun in the smaller, less formal days in Fulham but we still manage to enjoy ourselves with all the pressures of running a company of this size. Having to make tough decisions is always hard. Sometimes you have to part company with people and even close down areas of activity that are no longer economically viable (White Light North closed in 2010). We have had a few occasions where technology has failed us and we came close to letting a customer down, but the attitude that “the show must go on” has always won though – even for non-theatre projects.[CK1]
What’s the best part of the job?
Definitely the thousands of people I have met, including my partner. Our industry seems to attract “nice” people. Equally it is great to be involved in iconic projects like the Rugby World Cup, the Harry Potter Experience in Leavesden and theatre shows like Miss Saigon and Les Miserables.
What things have you done that you believe have contributed to White Light’s success?
The biggest factor in White Light’s success has been its founder John Simpson. He started the company back in the 70s but then had the trust and faith in his management team in the 90s to grow the company and in 2001 we outgrew our premises in Fulham and moved to our current premises in SW19. This triggered more growth as we diversified into other areas of the industry. In 2008 we completed a Management Buy Out, with B P Collins’ assistance, with John staying on as part of the ‘new’ owners. In more recent times, new members of the management team have invested in the company. Equally 5% of the company is now owned by an Employee Benefit Trust, which was set up by B P Collins. The next step change was the acquisition of Shock Solutions which also involved B P Collins and gave White Light access to the world of video and broadcast. Since that acquisition and the addition of audio services, our portfolio has doubled in size.
What are the company’s plans for the future?
We are still growing and we are still looking at more market share in the corporate presentation industry. We have just completed the supply and installation of the massive Warner Brothers Theme Park in Abu Dhabi and we have just set up a company in the region to support installation projects out there. We are still looking are more Managed Venues (where we supply the technical staff & equipment for venues such as Central Hall Westminster) with a new venue at the Science Museum coming on stream in Spring 2019. There are also growing industries such as Boutique Gyms and E Gaming that use the kind of technology that we are specialists in. [CK2]
White Light has worked with some high profile shows and brands, any insider information you can share?
When I joined the ‘West End Lighting Hire Company’ in 1987, I never dreamed that I would still be here 31 years later, having had so many amazing experiences all round the world. I have given evidence at the Houses of Parliament about the lack of technical training in theatre industry; I have given evidence at a fraud trial, which related to the ill-fated Millennium Dome; I have been to hundreds of opening nights and I got to be pitch side for the Rugby World Cup in 2015. But all of this is surpassed by the people I have met over the years – virtually all of these experiences were shared in some way with someone else and they were the best ones.
If you weren’t MD for White Light - what would you be doing?
My parents lived on a narrowboat on the Grand Union for many years and I always fancied running a boat yard. But after hiring a narrowboat once or twice a year, I can see that it’s a job that looks like hard work!
David Smellie, B P Collins partner, works closely with Bryan and White Light. If you need advice about growing your company, please contact David by calling 01753 279022 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org