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Masters & Savant: Roger Smythe & Reto Reolon

Animation production company blazes new trail in the advertising industry

Juliet Pitman

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Roger Smythe & Reto Reolon

It’s one thing to break away from the security of the only job you have ever known to start a business. Taking that business in four years from two to 20 employees is something else. Roger Smythe and Reto Reolon have achieved both with animation production company Masters & Savant, which boasts a client list of the country’s most formidable advertising agencies, including Hunt Lascaris, JWT, Network BBDO and Tequila. In an industry that is constantly breaking new creative ground and demands something unique and special with every delivery, it is perhaps an advantage that neither of them has any formal business training; it is precisely because they do things differently from everyone else that they have been so successful.

After learning the creative ropes at their previous company, the pair realised they had the skills and talent necessary to run their own operation. “We saw a price gap in the market for a smaller, dynamic animation company that could offer the same service and talent but at competitive rates. With the overheads of only two people, we managed to do that,” says Smythe. But they weren’t content to remain a two-man band for very long. Right from the word go Smythe and Reolon have focused on establishing a slick, professional outfit that would set new creative standards. Smythe describes himself as “exceptionally pedantic” and the pair put a great deal of effort into deliberately planning many aspects of the company’s journey. Take for example the choice of company name. “Masters is a fictional name indicating technical ability or ‘mastery’ and Savant is another, implying creativity,” explains Smythe. In an industry where presentation is everything, choosing the right name was vital and the company’s brand promises exactly what it delivers: creativity and technical talent.

One thing you can’t plan, however, is exactly how fast a company is going to grow. “We were astonished at how well things went initially and how much work we got,” says Smythe. Surpassing even their ambitious hopes, the company grew quickly but the pair managed this growth with a mixture of flexibility, juggling skills and common sense. “Our policy has been to get the work first and then put whatever we need in place to make it happen. There’s no point building an infrastructure if you don’t have the work to feed it,” says Smythe. He and Reolon have also made the difficult transition from doing everything themselves to delegating tasks to people who have specialised skills. Which is where great people come in, something Smythe feels strongly about. In an industry driven by fashion and trends, there is the very real danger of being flavour of the month, only to find yourself out in the cold six months later. But Masters & Savant has managed to achieve the difficult balance of continued cutting edge creativity and long-term sustainability. Smythe puts their success in this regard down to choosing the right people to join the company. “Animators are a bit like fine artists, each with their own particular style. We’ve tried to make sure we have a mixture of all types, from people who can do slick corporate stuff, to those who specialise in a grungier look or someone who’s particular talent lies in Disney-style animation. So we continue to get work because clients know that we have the creative talent to respond to any need.”

Then there’s their attention to detail in everything. “You can spend so much time thinking about the craft that there’s the danger of forgetting you are dealing with people. Part of holistic customer service is paying attention to things like the food you serve at presentations,” says Smythe. But they never forget that their key differentiator is their talent. “That’s why clients come to us and it needs to be reflected in the work we do,” says Smythe. Unlike skills, talent can’t be learned, but if their track record is anything to go by, Smythe and Reolon possess the type of talent sufficient to shape an industry.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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