Profile: Michael Breen - Blitz Charter Group

Michael Breen left school at 16 with just one O-level but now heads audiovisual outfit Blitz Charter Group. The 49-year-old tells Abigail Wills about the recent split from Evenser and why he loves the thrill of the chase - the chase for business that is On a recent family holiday to Orlando in the US, Blitz Charter Group chief executive Michael Breen reluctantly accompanied his 15-year-old daughter on the white-knuckle rides.

He clearly gets a bigger thrill from clinching a deal to riding Universal Studio's The Hulk. "I'd been building up to it, as all good fathers do, but I was relieved when she decided she didn't have time to go on it," he recalls.

Back in Britain, audiovisual (AV) outfit Blitz Communications and sister company Charter Broadcast have embarked on a roller-coaster ride of their own. In March, the two suppliers split from Evenser Group, which includes Melville Exhibition Services and Arena Event Services Group. Breen is adamant the move will be for the best.

"Everyone was comfortable working together but we were not seeing any benefits of being in a group," he says. "There was a big divide in investment requirements. If cash was needed the other businesses would look at delaying capital expenditure. But capital expenditure is normally on things you have a choice with - like fitting out an office or buying a new computer system. When renting equipment out, in the way Blitz and Charter do, it is not a choice it's a requirement.

"The others didn't see that. I'm a bullish arguer and I fought strongly for the right investment and strategic steps for Blitz and Charter to be taken. When they couldn't be, Evenser chief executive Barry Day and I decided that it wasn't working in the best interests of both parties. In my opinion the demerger leaves the businesses in a better position to trade," he maintains.

Breen left school at 16 with one O-level in English, a "classic Richard Branson" as he puts it, and took up an apprenticeship in an accountancy firm. It was while running his own practice a few years later that a client called Eddie Blitz asked him to look into the feasibility of an AV company he was interested in buying.

When Breen was asked to join the company as finance director his immediate reaction was to say no. "I didn't want to work for anyone, I'm not good at it," he explains. "But I'd always had more of a leaning towards the commercial side of things and decided to go for it. Blitz kicked off in May 1989," he recalls.

A number of acquisitions later and Blitz and Charter have established specialist divisions in all areas of presentation and broadcast services.

Day-to-day work can range from supplying broadcast graphics equipment for TV programmes such as Big Brother and working with the sound crews of some of London's top musicals, to providing broadcast equipment at the Wimbledon tennis championships and screens for the Labour Party conference.

"We tend to see ourselves as the back-room boys supporting entertainment. Any presentation or broadcast we are involved in ultimately has an audience that in some way, shape or form should be entertained," he says.

"We do some exhibition work," adds Breen, "but only when it is at a sensible price that is sustainable. That might sound arrogant but it is just logical business sense. We're not expecting people to pay a Harrods price but it is suicide to undervalue the services that we provide."

"I understand that people will buy on price but the majority of people we work with are from production companies or design agencies and if we are to support them properly there's no point in us cutting corners and jeopardising their clients," he maintains.

And the 49-year-old chief executive seems far from being tired of work.

Despite enjoying his holidays and dreaming of owning a house in the south of France, Breen's 80-year-old mother is something of a role model. "I just hope I have the energy she's got when I'm her age," he says.


Employing the right people ... Any business that wants to rent out equipment just needs money. But if they want to do it successfully they need people. A piece of equipment, no matter how good, is only as good as the people that understand how to operate it and best use it.

Getting to grips with jargon ... What you have to do very quickly, if you are to have any respect from your staff, is get to a stage where you can talk knowledgeably. But I'm a nosey person and I'll go and look at new equipment when it's delivered.

Making decisions ... You analyse and you allow for a straightforward gut reaction. Like everyone I can make wrong decisions but it's okay as long as you react to them. It's better to take a decision, put it into place and amend it than forever sit and think about taking the decision.

How he spends his free time ... I have a little boat but I get seasick easily so I keep it on the river in Windsor. It's a little gin palace really and it's near the racecourse so family and friends can sit on the boat with a glass or two of something and watch what's going on.

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