Chairman and Co-founder of Vivid Toy Group

Entrepreneur in Residence Nick Austin

It's a great privilege for me as a Portsmouth Business School alumnus to be able to share my experience. I want to help the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders at the start of their journey.

Nick Austin, Chairman and Co-founder of Vivid Toy Group

Nick Austin is an alumnus of the University of Portsmouth, graduating with a BA (Hons) in Business Studies, Marketing, Economics and Sociology.

His first career move into the toy industry was taking a role as the Sales Manager for Palitoy. At 30-years-old he became the Managing Director of Matchbox Toys, turning the company around from a loss to a highly profitable company. 5 years later, the company was sold to Mattel, the maker of the Barbie.

In 1992, Nick co-founded his own toy company, Vivid Imaginations, now part of the Vivid Toy Group. Ten years later they were the number 1 toy company in the UK. This was the first time a British owned toy company had achieved this in 30 years. By 2010, they had opened subsidiary companies in France, Germany and Hong Kong.

Nick's work has been recognised in the following awards:

  • The Lifetime Achievement Award 2012 by the British Toy and Hobby Association
  • EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2003
  • Sunday Times Management Team of the Year 2004

Nick is also a co-founder of The Toy Trust, a children's charity which has so far raised over £5 million for UK and international children's charities.

Nick Austin can offer particular expertise in:

  • Taking a project to market
  • Operating in a global market
Watch our interview with Nick Austin

My name's Nick Austin. I'm an alumni of Portsmouth University. I graduated in 1979. I did a Business Studies course and then went on to have a sales and marketing career in the UK, working for some great companies, working with some great products and I have terrifically fond memories of my four years down here.

My first job out of graduating here was with British steel in Sheffield. I was a graduate training and British Steel has sponsored me during my degree so I was obligated to work for them for a year afterwards. But after a year I decided that I didn't want to be in the steel industry and I decided to join a company called Procter and Gamble.

My career took off, I got promoted to Marketing Director and then I was headhunted again and I became the Managing Director of Matchbox toys, who make the little matchbox cars, at the age of 30. So I'd kind of moved on really quickly and things went pretty well. We turned the company around and for the next five years, I had a lot of fun running that business. 

Well in 1992, starting Vivid Imaginations, the decision there was really, at 35, I just got this kind of bug that, you know, I'd made a lot of money and grown other companies and seemingly, you know, kind of was reasonably good at what I was doing. And I had this burning kind of thought in my head that 'Well if I can do it for other people, why can't I do it for myself?' And the main thing that stopped me from starting my own business, I suppose, was the lack of capital, a lack of finance and having secured a pay off from my previous company, and cashed in some stock options and remortgaged the house, suddenly for the first time I had some capital and my wife was brilliant, she was very supportive. Thankfully she had a good job so she could kind of pay the bills. We didn't have kids. It was the perfect time to do it and I said look I'll give it a shot for two years. If it works, great. If not, I'll just have to dust myself down, damaged pride, and walk back into corporate life.

Iconic toys that I've been involved in? I suppose the first one was Star Wars: The Return of The Jedi. I think it was launched in the mid-80s and that was like the hot toy of the moment. What was our biggest success? I think probably Thunderbirds Tracy Island because it was a phenomenon. We were on the news all the time, “Why haven't you made enough of them?” and frankly you know you don't deliberately not make enough toys at Christmas. It was just that it was such a massive success, we could never have imagined. 

What inspires me, I think, is the fact that I started life as a very unconfident shy kid, failed 11 plus, got bullied a bit, and so I kind of started life, I felt, feeling like a bit of an underdog. And I've kind of, as my life has gone on, I think I've kind of grown as a person, developed as a person and been able to do a lot of things that I never thought I would be able to do. 

Advice to future entrepreneurs, first of all, don't rush into it. Research research research. Because it's a competitive world out there, you'll probably need capital, you'll need finance to get off the ground and you don't want to throw your hard-earned cash into something you haven't really, really researched through, through and through and through.

Second point is, go into an industry or a business that you understand, that you have some experience in. Because the chances are, if you go into something that is brand new to you, and you don't know the competition, you don't know the market, chances are you're going to have to learn some hard lessons before you finally get it right.

So what would what advice would I give to recent graduates? I think the most important thing is to know yourself and know what fires you up. What are you passionate about? Because if you can find a career or a job in something that you're passionate about the chances are you will succeed. 

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