Industry Insights: Rodney McMahon

Chairman of British furniture maker Morgan and the Design Guild Mark, Rodney McMahon has over 30 years experience in the design and interiors space. We caught up with him to discuss his career and why the DGM is a great vehicle for designers

Can you talk us through the early years of Morgan? 

I don't know if you can imagine it, but Morgan grew up in the days when there were none of the coffee shops, hotels, pubs and restaurants there are today. In the City of London, for example, there were no coffee shops at all. There were a few old-fashioned sandwich shops and not much else. But Morgan were, at that time, probably the biggest supplier of corporate contract furniture in the UK. They tailed off really through lack of design and significant growth in imported product. 

So I was involved in buying this company that had been very strong in hospitality, but had drifted towards the pub market. We invested a lot of time and energy in developing a better quality of product directed at the upper end hotel market. That's where we focused, as well, on design. We've always been very focused on being design-led because we feel that's the differentiator, really. We now supply hospitality, cruise ship, health care, and corporate.

At what point did you feel like you were really making progress with Morgan?

When we got the contract to make the British Library chair, about eight or nine years in. We made 693 chairs for the British Library. That was a phenomenal contract. We were very pleased with that because that was an exceptional quality of chair. 

Do you have a definition or some hypotheses around what constitutes good design? 

Good design for me is something that is designed to last. I don't just mean in the way it's constructed. I mean visually. Good design is something you can look back at and still admire, the way you can admire good Art Deco or good Art Nouveau, even good fashion from the 1940s. That's good design. 

How long have you been involved in the Design Guild Mark Awards?

This is my seventh year of chairing. It has always been my feeling, really, that designers and creatives are an underappreciated resource. People think that creativity is an easy thing. The consequence of that is that they don't appreciate what designers do.

The Design Guild Mark has been a very good vehicle for celebrating the designer. Whilst we recognise the role of the business in having the capability to manufacture these things and to make them efficiently, and to bring them to market, without the designer right at the outset, it wouldn't happen. 

What's the most valuable lesson you think you've learned over the course of your career?

It's a very long list. This is the advice I give to young people if they're stupid enough to ask my opinion. My observation of people that have been successful, is very often they have strong interpersonal skills. Those override their technical skills and abilities. That's the same whether you are an accountant or a photographer. 

Just being pleasant, and personable, and interesting makes your business more successful and makes your involvement in it more enjoyable. I think that's the thing I've learned. 

To learn more about the Design Guild Mark Awards, click here, or for Morgan Furniture, click here

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