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Adlib’s Andy Dockerty: Doing it my way – part 2

Andy Dockerty started the Adlib hire business 30 years ago – and solid principles means the company is thriving today, as Dave Robinson discovers.

Continued from part one here.

On investing in gear…
We’re never afraid to invest – we have committed to another £1 million of investment since 1 April this year. Everything’s monitored: we will always spend in relation to which each department is doing, but there is consistent investment in the audio and the lighting departments. As long as that demand is there, we will continue to do it. Audio-wise, there are two SD10s downstairs, with more arriving next week, and another three Avid Profiles on their way… For example, we are buying in seven consoles in the next month and we are moving on three.

I just see this company as a huge bucket of potential; it’s not finished anywhere, really. I think part of it is our industry and part of it is that I’m having to learn quite quickly to be a little bit more business orientated. Which I’m failing miserably at. [Smiles.]
My role has changed dramatically over the last 12 months. I never went into this to be where I am at the moment, if you know what I mean. I don’t think many people in our industry see themselves as being business people, in fact: they always see themselves being sound engineers. But at some point, you buy kit, then you’ve got nigh-on 90 staff, shedloads of gear and a whole load of development in different areas…

On the location…
It’s got to be close to 50,000 square feet we have here, and I already have my plans drawn for [refurbishing] half of the place. (Extensive building work was going on when PSNEurope visited, as Adlib had just taken over a building next door.)

The actual Adlib location is fantastic because we’re two sets of traffic lights away from being on the motorway to Manchester. Thirty minutes maximum from Liverpool city centre. And the train station is great for young people who haven’t got cars. Plus the airport is within a staggering distance as well.

I don’t want to move to another warehouse, because they’re always in big industrial estates. I hope that we don’t grow out of [this place] and have to move. There has never been an Adlib plan, never have we sat down and said, ‘Right, in two or three years’ time we are going to do this and that’.

On seizing the advantage…
If the opportunity comes along, you think, can we take it or can we afford not to take it? And that’s where you make your decisions. As an example of that, we have for a long time, we’d not long bought the V-DOSC system, and we’d looked after Bob Dylan for a couple of years. At the time, that was one of our biggest contracts, and we knew the year they were coming back after they were going to want K1. We were thinking, “If we don’t buy that K1 now, we’re going to lose [Dylan]”. The decision to buy the K1 wasn’t based upon getting anymore business; it was based upon not losing what we had, with the idea that we probably would get more business. As it transpires owning K1 has proven to be one of the shrewdest purchases we have made.

On knowing your team…
We know their personalities, we know their strengths, we know their weaknesses. Hopefully, we give our clients everything they need when we they’re on tour through a cross-section of people who we know inside and out. It gives us a level of control on what, whom and how we send it out.

On the in-house engineers…
We have some specialists like Tony Szabo, Marc Peers and Ian Nelson, but the majority are encouraged to multi-task. We do try to make sure that people are multi-skilled to be able to deliver the different types of jobs that are required. You haven’t got a set of group of engineers that just mix, or who are just system technicians. And we’re all doing it with a smile on our face, because, if not, they should go and do something else, don’t come into this world – which is a hobbyist’s world – with doom and gloom all over your face. I can’t be dealing with it.

On working with Coda Audio…
Paul Ward (ex-Fusion), who is doing some work with Coda, is one of my external business advisers.
We were in Frankfurt for, and Paul said, “Come out here, listen to this stuff. Myself and Dave [Kay] went outside, and they were playing tracks [off a CD]. I’m not that interested and turned around and started walking back in, and then the next thing is a guy got a microphone, explaining what we’re listening to. By now, I’m about 80-odd metres away, I turned around and the sound was literally in my face. That is what the initial interest came from, just listening to a vocal out of the box. That was the LA12, the big box.

Then we got [Coda founder] Svetly Alexandrov over here for a visit. We were talking about the shortfalls with the system, which wasn’t the audio, but was how the technicians wanted to handle the DSP and the rigging.
There was a definite willingness on Svetly’s part to listen.

And here we are a few years later with a whole new amplifier platform being released. The DSP is coming up to speed – what they are planning will take it years ahead. The fact that Svetly also owns BMS probably one of the best component manufacturers has always meant that his cabinets where great. Now he’s just about streamed all the other stuff together, I think Coda are ready for [the next stage].

The ViRAY – it’s outrageous! It’s the modern version of the LA8 and it’s night and day between them. It really flies quickly and is deceptively powerful for its size.

ViRAY isn’t about commercialism yet, it’s just about the product. I find that really exciting; what Coda are doing and how they’re doing it. Their ethos is one hundred per cent audio. I actually think that, where they’re going to be [with ViRAY and so on], if they maintain that I can see it being a proper player in the next two or three years.

On the next generation of engineers…
As part of understanding our staff and our clients requirements, we have always invested heavily training people in this industry. This has taken many guises over the years from day release courses in either theatre studies or even basic electrical installation, whilst still learning the job on the job. Myself and Dave Kay have even been involved in creative apprentice steering groups and could be found at the front of any new production educational initiative. Many of these have come and gone and unfortunately we believe the only way to progress is with our own in-house training. Further education appears to present too many empty hopes.

Adlib now actively works with many schools providing complete production days all free of charge and also work experience opportunities. This has proved very successful in the past with over 20 current employees coming from the direct schools route. The fulfilment in watching young talent develop into industry recognised professionals is incredibly rewarding.