What do you currently do?
I am currently global CEO of entertainment company, Incognito Artists, which is an entertainment agency that provides ‘incognito’ performance packages with stars of opera and musical theatre for corporate events, private parties, weddings and stadium events etc. I am also a trained professional Tenor, an internationally successful and multi-platinum selling recording artist and solo artist and I own my own record label, Sewell Music.
However, that’s not how it started. I grew up in New Zealand and after gaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Victoria University in Wellington, I qualified as a chartered accountant working in banking with a passion for singing. I took a sudden and decisive career change when my sister, Julie, tragically died of Epilepsy at the age of 22 and moved to the US to follow my dream and study at the prestigious Boston Conservatory.
In 2000, I decided to combine my musical and financial acumen to create the successful international entertainment company, Tenors Incognito, now called Incognito Artists, with my wife and business partner, Simone Lanham. Based in London, we have offices and representation in New York, Edinburgh, Moscow, Dubai, Dublin, Spain, Netherlands and Auckland and have performed at over 6,500 shows worldwide and sold over 3.5 million albums.
What is your inspiration in the business?
We set up Incognito Artists with the purpose to create an entertainment company to: ‘touch, move and inspire people so that they are present to the magic of being alive’. This inspires and moves me every day.
Who do you admire?
Someone who gets off their butt and turns their dreams into reality. I recently read about Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Toms shoes, and his business model of ‘buy one, give one free’: a customer buys his product and he donates an equivalent item to someone in need. In 2014, the company announced that it has given away around 10 million shoes and given clear sight to 200,000 people, which I find extremely inspirational. I admire that Blake walks his talk, has a nice life, doesn’t apologise for being successful and he still manages to make a real impact in the world.
Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?
I would have told my elder sister, Julie, I loved her more before she died (of Epilepsy at the age of 22). Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.
What defines your way of doing business?
It’s all about people: relationships, connections and having fun together. What we do at Incognito Artists is always uplifting; to put a smile on people’s faces and our focus is to create an awesome experience and magical moments. We’re about innovation, constantly developing and creating: I think it’s important to study what 99 per cent of people do and do the opposite.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
1) Persistence! When the going gets tough, that’s when you stick at it and find a way through.
2) Have 15 reasons why you want to do it – not just ‘be my own boss, make shed loads of cash, control my destiny’ etc. so when the inevitable happens and it gets tough, you revisit your reasons for doing it and why. Passion for what you do should be on the list because if you don’t love it, forget it.
3) Cash flow is everything