De Sousa: ‘I’m not eccentric; I’m just different’

Magazine publisher Dominic de Sousa tells Iain Akerman how he has fought tooth and nail to build his firm CPI

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By  Iain Akerman Published  October 16, 2005

De Sousa: ‘I’m not eccentric; I’m just different’|~|desousa200.jpg|~|De Sousa... ‘Dubai will always be a head office for the region, but you’ve got to start looking at other areas in the region’|~|Chatting to Dominic de Sousa is like talking to a human whirlwind. No matter how hard you try to resist, sooner or later you’ll be sucked into a vortex of enthusiasm, energy and hyperbole. Firmly ensconced behind an impressive black desk at his offices in Bank Street, Dubai, the larger-than-life boss of publishing house Corporate Publishing International is friendliness personified, flashing a smile as he offers me the prospect of a job. The 45-year-old former band singer has fought tooth and nail to build CPI from small beginnings as a three-man operation. His eclectic portfolio includes celebrity title OK! Middle East, Banker, Computer News Middle East and the forthcoming Goodbye, a monthly magazine celebrating the lives of famous dead celebrities. He is also involved in an events company, has three other CPI offices in Dubai Media City and claims he wants to buy a building in the upcoming International Media Production Zone. “CPI has evolved into its own personality,” he says. “I’m very happy that I’m viewed by the industry as different. We’re one of the main players and I’m happy to be one of the main players, but I owe that success to my competition.” I point out that ‘eccentric’ rather than ‘different’ is how I’ve heard him described. “If people think I’m eccentric, fine. I’ve no qualms about that. I think of myself as different. I used to have a bright yellow office and everybody used to say, ‘how can you work in such conditions?’. “Creativity is about impulse, it’s about the moment, it’s about being different. If you look at publishing and you relate that to my experience in the bands, running a band was like running a business. “Being a singer meant that you had to win a crowd over, meant that you had to communicate, meant that there had to be harmony between the five people playing in that band. Those principles are very much the same in business.” It’s all a long way from his childhood in Kenya, where he was born to a Brazilian father and an Indian mother. African vistas, vibrant wildlife and his father’s job rescuing animals were intrinsic in creating the man sitting before me. Rescuing animals has become de Sousa’s main passion and his outlook on life is simplicity itself; claiming his aim is just to be happy. Yet it is his unhappy relationship with Dubai-based ITP, publisher of Campaign Middle East, which helped shape the professional man. Educated in London from the age of 11, he reached publishing through a circuitous route involving music, biochemistry and retail. When he eventually ended up working on Middle East Computing for Reed Business Publishing he met the people who founded ITP and joined the company within a couple of years of its inception. “Half of me is happy, half of me is sad to say that I was a founder member of the sales team at ITP,” he says. “I learnt a lot, sat down and got into the world of real guerilla publishing. I went from Reed, which was very structured, to a much smaller unit where you were depended upon. In Reed I was a tiny cog in a big wheel. Suddenly I was a bigger cog in a smaller wheel.” De Sousa left ITP to start CPI with a business partner who he eventually bought out with the help of two silent partners. He later bought them out and now owns the company outright. The aftermath of his departure from ITP included a bitter legal battle which has left the relationship between the two sides non-existent ever since. De Sousa has been in Dubai for 15 years, but his memories of CPI’s origins in London are crystal clear. “It was a very, very hard, humble beginning,” says de Sousa. “ITP was biting at my heels. But when I look back on that episode, it’s not about monopoly. If you look at the publishing industry today, it’s about the pie getting bigger. In hindsight ITP has been a major force in opening up that market. Good, bad, indifferent, ugly, whatever; I view it as a totally different thing. “It’s gone from being a tiny shop to being a huge supermarket. The methodology — yeah, it’s debatable — but if you look at it from an industry perspective I think it has opened the industry up.” He talks at some length about ITP and some of his views are probably a little too extreme to share. But however you look at it, de Sousa has emerged intact from his relationship with ITP and even says he is now in a situation where he can contemplate selling CPI. “If you look at publishing in this whole region, there is a huge explosion of choice,” he says. “As the marketplace develops, the big boys will come to swallow the small boys. I’ve already been approached by people who are interested in buying this company.” So would he sell? “I would accept it providing I was part of it,” he admits. “I would accept it if I felt it was better for the industry, if it was better for the people who work for me and if I felt it was better for CPI. I wouldn’t like to sell it lock, stock and barrel without input. I would consider selling it to be part of something much bigger.” If he doesn’t sell, what next? “I would say the next level is to expand out from here. Dubai will always be a head office for the region, but you’ve got to start looking at other areas in the region. We all talk about being pan-Arab, but how pan-Arab are we in reality?” CPI now employs 37 staff and de Sousa’s workload is in danger of eclipsing what he enjoys doing most — selling. “Unfortunately, the way this company goes I can’t do enough of that,” he laments. “So if you ask me where we need to go, I think I need to have a level of management that takes a load off my shoulders.” And De Sousa’s management style came under scrutiny in July when OK! Middle East editor Jason Coates walked out after just six months, publicly accusing CPI’s management of “playing games” and complaining of “internal politics”. It followed the departure of previous editor Graham Stacey. When talk eventually reaches the topic of audit, de Sousa is bordering on dismissive. “You are told by agencies, audit your magazine. But what does that audit actually mean?,” he says. “It means the printer can lie about how many he’s printing, the distribution outlet can tell you what they’re doing but there’s no way of justifying it completely, and you’ve got to produce a certificate with a noose around your neck.” When pushed, he adds: “We will be audited, yes, we’re going to be audited across our magazines by next March. We’ve started the process but we’re doing it a different way. I’m making sure that people who receive the publication actually read it.” Like everything else with de Sousa, it’s certainly not the conventional approach.||**||

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