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Bossing It: Catherine Manners


Manners McDade's company director on mistakes, total transparency and the importance of company culture

Bossing It: Catherine Manners

Catherine holds a BSc in Music and Physics as well as a Masters Degree in Music. After gaining experience in the publishing, recording and live industries, she founded Manners McDade Artist Management in 2001 representing some of the finest composers working in film, television, games and advertising. In 2006, Catherine established Manners McDade Music Publishing which promptly gained a reputation as the primary independent publisher for composers of new classical and electronic music.

Catherine is a former cellist, a full voting member of BAFTA and in 2017 she was voted onto the Board of the Music Publisher’s Association. She runs an unofficial mentorship programme for young people in the music industry called The Park Walks.

What was your first experience of leadership?

I worked for an independent publisher in my 20s. The boss was chaotic and ended up going bankrupt.

How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

See above! Watching a company go bankrupt taught me a great deal. I learned how to avoid a multitude of sins and mistakes. I learned never to rely on any one artist and never to spend money that wasn’t in my bank account.


What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

In my first ever job I made a big mistake. I told my boss straight away and he made me sit in his office listening to him sort it out and resolve everything. He was completely calm and also very fair.


Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so, how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

I always knew that I was a bit of a control freak and I learned that I hated waiting around for other people to make decisions. But I needed a bit of a push to leave a comfortable job and set up on my own.  

When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

I think it is definitely a natural attribute, but you can learn techniques and additional skills to enhance your own style, such as how to deal with conflict and unreasonableness.  

What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

I certainly don’t have a problem with delegating, but I do sometimes find team motivation difficult when I am under stress – but careful planning and scripting prior to team meetings helps a lot.  


Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Oh yes. But you just have to own up, apologise to the relevant people and rectify as quickly as possible. Take the blame and don’t panic.

In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?  

I’m probably an over-sharer which isn’t always a good thing. But I definitely believe in total transparency and honesty at all times, even though I occasionally regret being so open.

As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor if so, who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

I do have an unofficial mentor in Isobel Griffiths, who has run her own company fixing musicians for studio recordings since the 1980s (Isobel Griffiths Ltd). We’ve known one another for over 20 years and regularly meet to discuss business and industry news. She deals with a lot of major artists, companies and agents and is totally unflappable.  She always sticks to the rulebook. I’m a big believer in mentorship, although my casual approach is not for everyone. I promoted one of my staff, Harriet Moss to managing director of my company when she was just 27. I knew she had the right personality and temperament – and I hope that I’ve guided her whilst also allowing her to develop her own leadership style.

It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

We have a small team, so I’ve been able to check in with individuals and monitor their own individual journeys through 2020. Structure is important, so regular team meetings are essential. We even managed to have a socially distanced office Christmas party.


This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

We’ve always had a majority female staff and wherever possible have offered opportunities to underrepresented groups. But we’ve been unable to host any paid internships recently, which is a shame.

How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?

Our company culture is everything. We can only keep good staff if we treat them well and they enjoy their jobs and feel as if they are learning and progressing. I think that during 2020 I really had to take into account every member of staff’s personal circumstances and be more considerate.


What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Seek out advice when you need to. Never be afraid to ask for help. Make strong decisions, without delay. Be flexible at all times so that you are quick on your feet. Read widely about other leaders and businesses in other sectors and learn from their experiences. 

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Manners McDade, Mon, 22 Feb 2021 09:13:14 GMT