Every double act needs a straight man and, while that may be a simplistic summary of Link chairman David Hamilton, he has certainly been a steady hand on Link’s financial tiller.
He describes his role as ‘everything that’s not marketing. I look after the finances and legal contracts with principals and licensees, and I make financial projections on new properties.’
Hamilton is an accountant by training and came to Link somewhat circuitously. ‘I was headhunted by Lord Hanson to be a financial adviser to Trident Television. Although I started by looking after its non-television interests, I gradually got an insight into the working of television companies.’
Following his stint with Hanson, Hamilton became involved in an unsuccessful bid for an ITV franchise, then gradually came round to the view that ‘I didn’t want to go back into a big company.’
With that frame of mind, he joined an independent company called Michael Barrett Productions, where he first met his future business partner Claire Derry and decided that the independent sector might be an interesting way to go.
‘Channel 4 was being set up and that opened up opportunities,’ says Hamilton. ‘So I set up my own small production company that became involved in children’s television.’
Children’s television appealed to Hamilton as an area that had potential for exploitation. And the fact that he was a father further fed his interest. So when Derry pushed through the management buyout of Link, it seemed an obvious step to join up with her as chairman.
The division of marketing and financial responsibilities seems to have worked well. It was principally Hamilton’s decision to grow the company cautiously rather than look for ways of securing quick expansion.
‘At times, we asked ourselves if we made the right decision,’ he admits. ‘But I think we did. Television is a volatile industry where you can invest millions in projects that might not take off and discover there’s no way of getting the money back. Our growth was slow and steady whereas some shooting stars have come and gone.’
However, with the success of Barbie beginning to tip the company too far away from television, the opportunity to link up with Guinness Mahon came at the right time. ‘It was our chance to make major inroads into distribution. Television is an important part of our ambition to provide producers with a complete solution.’
However, Hamilton remains the voice of caution. ‘It is valuable to get capital and contacts from a company that understands intellectual property rights. But I’m still very cautious. There is always a tendency when you’ve got money to go out and spend it. But we’re not going to throw it all into one project.’
His emphasis is on spreading risk. On the one hand, this means having a broad portfolio. ‘You might only get one success in five, so you need a number of properties to reduce the immediate risk.’
On the other hand, it means ‘we will only make a financial commitment when we’ve raised some of the budget from presales. Frankly, you can’t bank on merchandising because there are so many factors that might work against it.’
Hamilton appears comfortable working with higher stakes. ‘We’ve been making assessments that have been successful for a number of years. The same judgments apply as before, but now we can take an equity share. We have the resources, so now we need the right projects.’
He believes the company’s strength has been its honesty. ‘That’s the reason we retain clients. It’s essential that we deliver because we want to go back next time.’