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Jazz Shapers

Shaper: Dame Rosemary Squire OBE

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Good morning, this is Jazz Shapers, I am Elliot Moss and it’s where the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues meet the Shapers of Business. I am very pleased to say, very honoured to say, that my guest today is none other than Dame Rosemary Squire, Co-Founder and joint CEO of Trafalgar Entertainment Group; a live entertainment business and as you will be hearing, also she was the Co-Founder of the Ambassador Theatre Group which is enormous. As a child, thanks to regular theatre trips with her parents, Rosemary was bitten by the theatre bug. Aged seventeen, she announced to friends outside Nottingham Playhouse that she wanted to be a theatre manager: “I didn’t know that that meant” she says, “but Richard Eyres worked there as Artistic Director had inspired me and I wanted to help create that experience.” After working as a Relief House Manager, then freelance in production management with her husband Howard Panter, they founded the theatre companies I mentioned, the Ambassador Theatre Group in 1992. By 2016 the company’s scale, that’s about 6,000 employees, made the pair feel like “strangers backstage” they said. They left the company that year and went back, as they say, to their roots, acquiring ATGs Trafalgar Studios in 2017 to establish Trafalgar Entertainment Group. We’ll be talking to Dame Rosemary about her vision to create a much improved experience and her hope to inspire young entrepreneurs, particularly women, in theatre, film and tv industries. We’ve also got brilliant music from, amongst others, Nina Simone, McCoy Tyner and Joe Henderson. That’s today’s Jazz Shapers, here’s Janet Lawson Quintet and Sunday Afternoon.

That was the Janet Lawson Quintet with Sunday Afternoon. Dame Rosemary Squire is my Business Shaper, Co-Founder at Trafalgar Studios and the group that has now got a much beautiful sounding name, and obviously the Ambassador Theatre Group. Hello.

Dame Rosemary Squire
Hello. Nice to be here.

Elliot Moss
It’s lovely for you, I’m so happy you have joined. Thank you. You’re a big name in this world of theatre and as I said you got the bug early. Is everyone in theatre and especially the management of it, passionate about theatre? Is that what it’s about? Does it start there?

Dame Rosemary Squire
I think it’s about being passionate about telling stories, I think you’ve got to be interested in other people’s stories because I would it’s in our spinal cord somewhere that we need to hear each other’s stories, it’s part of what makes us human, you know we sat around as those cavemen round the campfire and listened to other people’s stories so, I was really fortunate as a kid, my parents, particularly my mother, was passionate about theatre, took me thirteenth birthday, off to the RSC in Strafford, so I was exposed to lots of theatre and exposed to great theatre in Nottingham, in the regions, not in London, and you know we are very fortunate in the UK that there’s brilliant theatre up and down the country, so I saw fantastic cutting edge work with Richard Eyre as the Artistic Director, Judie Dench, Jonathan Price, wonderful actors, and you know I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, formative years and, as you say, by the time I was late teens I already knew that I responded to those stories, I wanted to be part of it, and I think theatre is a way of life, it’s certainly not a nine to five job, you know, it all happens in the evening so you’ve got to be prepared to do your work in the day in the office but also to put in the evenings too, so…

Elliot Moss
You mentioned exposure and that point about accessibility and often is said of the Arts in this country, different kinds of Arts – high, low, medium, especially high – that that’s the issue. It strikes me from a very young age as well, you have thought about how other people might be connected. Is that still part of the vision for everything that you do?

Dame Rosemary Squire
Completely. I think it’s a massive challenge in this country that performing arts, creative arts are being taught less and less in schools. You know, when I was a kid at school, the school play, the house play, the form play, they were really, and the youth clubs in those days, I used to go to youth club, they always had, you know, playlets and we went off to see things, so in a way I got a lot of exposure through school and through home life as well, and many, many kids don’t have that opportunity. And I think one of the great things that with our new company, Trafalgar Entertainment, we have been able to focus on are two areas, two businesses that we’ve bought which really do make the arts much more accessible. One of them is our Trafalgar Releasing business which is the market leader in the UK for distributing content, for example, the Metropolitan Opera, Bolshoi Ballet, so high quality classical work if you like, but it makes Glyndebourne for example we do, it means you can go for £20/£30 in your local cinema to see the as live experience whereas if you went in the flesh, you know, it might cost you over £200 and it’s perhaps something you could only do very, very rarely as a big treat, whereas you can afford something that’s under 30 quid, you could go much more regularly and it democratises all of that, and I am really a firm believer that it opens up the classical arts in that way. The other business we’ve bought that I think really does make a difference to young people in this country is our performing arts enrichment business, it’s called Stagecoach Theatre Arts.

Elliot Moss
My children have been on a few of those camps over the years. They are brilliant.

Dame Rosemary Squire
Yeah. And weekly, an hour of singing, dancing and acting. Its great skills for life. Nobody is saying that all the kids who go to Stagecoach are going to become actors…

Elliot Moss
No.

Dame Rosemary Squire
…but, as we say, with Stagecoach it gives you ‘Creative Courage for Life’. It’s life skills, it’s about learning how to be part of a team, to present yourself, to look somebody in the eye, everyone wants to get their kids off their phones, you know, my youngest spends a lot of time on her phone and I think doing something like Stagecoach and learning those basic skills is a great skill for life.

Elliot Moss
When you were way back at the beginning of the ‘90s, what possessed you to try and actually establish a business within this passion and this love or yours of telling stories and theatre, how was the Ambassador Theatre created in those early days?

Dame Rosemary Squire
I think it came out of a recognition that it was an unbelievably fragmented business, that theatre in the UK was a bit of a cottage industry so there were different elements; there were the people who run the theatres, there were the people who produced the shows, there were the people who did the lighting, the scenery, all of that, and I think it was very hard because when I first worked with Howard he was an independent producer – that’s Howard my husband who became Co-Founder with me of ATG and again now of Trafalgar – he was a young producers, as an independent producer, it was really tough being able to get the venues to put your show into a venue. And I’d come from a bit more of a venues background, the very first job I had in the West End was actually, I was a Relief House Manager and then I became Assistant General Manager and sort of went up the rungs and became a General Manager at that company so I’d had quite a lot of operational experience and I sort of knew the other side of it and what we wanted to create was a more integrated business so that you could control the moving parts more easily and we also felt that it was not just London focussed, I have always been very clear that one of the great things in this country is the length and breadth of the UK is that there is fantastic theatre, I didn’t grow up in London and the theatre I saw in Nottingham was world class and there’s still world class theatre up and down the UK and that’s why it’s so important that, you know, producers continue to tour, to produce work regionally. So we looked at an opportunity that was a management contract for a regional theatre and when the opportunity came up for a very small London playhouse and we wanted to, if you like, make that circle of integrating the business and running it as a whole.

Elliot Moss
And what’s it like, all these years, working with your husband?

Dame Rosemary Squire
It has its pluses and its minuses.

Elliot Moss
She says in a balanced way.

Dame Rosemary Squire
You certainly can’t leave work at the front door and I am sure my kids would say ‘Oh for God’s sake, stop talking about work again, mum. It just is too much’. It does mean you’ve got great shorthand and you can make…

Elliot Moss
I mean, almost no words, I imagine, just a look, a glance in a meeting and you are done.

Dame Rosemary Squire
Totally.

Elliot Moss
It’s like, yeah.

Dame Rosemary Squire
Okay.

Elliot Moss
Literally, yeah, the eyebrows were raised and thank you very much. Really?

Dame Rosemary Squire
Yeah. You’ve got a great shorthand, you can work together as a team and I would say it’s worked professionally because we have very different skills.

Elliot Moss
So, your skills are? And his skills? What are the super skills if we are playing the Avengers game?

Dame Rosemary Squire
Howard is a fantastic producer, he came in from a creative background, he went to drama school to LAMDA but he did the, he did some acting but it was his course was mainly the production side so technical, direction, stage management, lighting, all of that side of it. And he cut his teeth working in stage management, assistant directing, directing, lighting shows, he’s pretty well done every single job behind the curtain. Whereas I came from more of a business background, I went to University, when I was at Uni I was business manager for the National Student Drama Festival which is a great place where many, many University students to this day cut their teeth in theatre, so I was business manager then I went off and did a post-graduate in the States, came back and I loved theatre so much that I’d always had jobs, and I would say this to any young person who comes to talk to me, you know, get a few skills, if you are going to work in a call centre try and work in a call centre that’s related to something you are interested in, you know, work in a bar in a theatre because you will get to see the shows probably, you might get a free ticket or tear the tickets, front of house so that you watch the shows, I did that right through from school, through University and after University when I came back from the States and was looking for a job because I decided whilst I was there that I didn’t want to be an academic, this wasn’t going to be for me, you know, I didn’t want to spend four or five years writing a thesis on an obscure European novel or something, which is probably what I would have ended up doing, but actually I wanted to work in the sector that I was most interested in and most passionate about so I started off with operational jobs, I had a few skills, I was pretty good on the numbers so I had part-time in the morning in the accounts department and afternoons and evenings, you know, doing operational things in the theatres.

Elliot Moss
And still married and still working together.

Dame Rosemary Squire
Yep, so we do different things. Yes, absolutely.

Elliot Moss
You make it sound very simple as well, doing different things there. I am sure it’s not quite like that.

Dame Rosemary Squire
Well, we don’t sit in the same office which I think if you actually had to sit in the same office all day, it would be…

Elliot Moss
You might go mad.

Dame Rosemary Squire
You might go mad.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from my guest, that’s Dame Rosemary Squire, she’s coming back in a couple of minutes but first we are going to here from one of our partners at Mishcon de Reya with some advice for your business.

There are many ways for you to enjoy all our former Jazz Shapers guests and indeed to hear this programme again. You can ask Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear many of the recent programmes or if you pop Jazz Shapers into iTunes or your favourite podcast platform you can enjoy the full archive as well. But back to today’s guest, it’s Dame Rosemary Squire, she’s right here in the hot seat, Co-Founder and Joint CEO of Trafalgar Entertainment Group which is, and I quote ‘A live entertainment business’. I love it when you have to come up with these little names, right. So you’re ‘How am I going to say it? We’re this. Yes, but we’re more than that’ and I can imagine the meetings going ‘Okay, that will do, live entertainment’. In terms of going again and I’ve just glossed over twenty years of your life just because, or fifteen or whatever it was, and I want to come back briefly to it. When you go again and you get closer and it’s small and there’s room and I guess you then got investment opportunities, what was the feeling like emotionally because it strikes me that you’ve got complete control and command of what’s going on in this business because you’ve been in it so long intellectually? But the feeling of, for Rosemary when she went ‘We’re going to go again and then I’m moving’. Was there a gut, was there a reaction or was it just?

Dame Rosemary Squire
I think it’s quite hard suddenly to go from having a big team because obviously in a bigger business a lot of the skills, particularly when you are at the top of it, is about managing your team and setting the sense of direction for the business and articulating it. So, I think, what it did was, it makes you actually really go back to basics and think about, you know, why are we doing this, what’s this for? And they’re different skills to, if you like, managing big groups of people. On the one hand you feel a bit naked because you’ve not got the folks there to ask their opinions or give you information or to go off and work on something with you but it is also liberating so I guess it’s a bit of both really, feeling more exposed but also not having a huge responsibility and infrastructure.

Elliot Moss
And that question about why we are doing it is essentially looking at well, just because we’ve done it like that forever doesn’t mean that’s the right way of doing it and by the way I’ve got no legacy here, I’ve got no, I haven’t got two hundred people to re-organise, I can actually say no, we’re going to do it like that. Did you find that you have managed to reinvent some of the ways you do business and some of the ways that you now are able to connect with audiences? And if so, can you give me an example?

Dame Rosemary Squire
I think we’ve been much more hands on, I think it’s given us greater freedom to look outside the sort of narrow box if you like, or the narrow band width of what we were doing with the large company so, for example, looking at children and young people with our enrichment business, for example, looking in other media, the live broadcast business, that’s been very exciting. We are also doing much more on the digital side because I am very interested in about selling and, if you like, creating the full circle service when you sell a production. It means we’ve able to work with new work on a smaller scale which is very exciting. I was very proud that we have a young production team now, brand new, they were all put together since we started Trafalgar but we actually got twelve Olivier nominations last year, which for a brand new little start-up company was quite, because that’s the kind of vote of your peers and people who go to theatre, that they will be nominating your productions or the productions you’ve been involved with for the awards of the industry, in London, so that was very encouraging and very heartening.

Elliot Moss
Do you actually think that it’s easier to be creative when you haven’t got to think about industrial scale creativity because once you’ve got a few thousand people, as you did in the old business, there’s a danger that process trumps ideas just because you’ve got to organise process and when you’ve become smaller you can actually just really nurture one thing and see it flourish. If that’s true, how will you avoid creativity being dissipated as you inevitably get bigger because you will just because I can see it in your eyes that, you know, you want to and that’s what’s going to happen?

Dame Rosemary Squire
I think it’s just an instinct actually to make things bigger. I think, if you are entrepreneurial, you know, all the entrepreneurs I know are serial entrepreneurs, you are not going to go into something without ideas and a vision, so almost inevitably you want to grow what you are involved in. I think when you’ve got forty or fifty huge theatres that are hungry for content, it’s big pressure so it does remove you, it does mean you’ve got to look at work on an industrial scale, it gives you a lot of clout in the marketplace and you can also be more strategic about how you organise things. So, there are pluses and minuses. I think, you know, when you are at the smaller, more cutting edge end, you have les control about where your shows can go because you don’t control the building, that was my point about why we set the business up in the first place, but it gives you freedom. So, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.

Elliot Moss
As you said also, you’re the more business orientated side of the partnership, it doesn’t mean Howard isn’t business orientated, I am sure he is, but how people describe you in the business in terms of your own style because we now talk a lot about women in business – suddenly it’s become sort of some big topic which, again, my mother ran her own business and floated and did these other things and I don’t really, personally, because I haven’t seen it, I don’t know the issue but, of course, statistically we know there are lots of conversations going on about the lack of women in leadership positions – you’ve been in a leadership position for a long time, what would people say is your style?

Dame Rosemary Squire
I would want them to say that my door was open, that I’ve really tried to make a difference as a boss. I’ve been banging on for more years than I care to remember, decades, about equality and representation and equal rights and, particularly for me, I’ve got three kids, I’ve got one child with a, well she’s now a young woman in her thirties, with severe learning difficulties and that juggling act that particularly for women, you know, having a family and juggling the job so I think I would hope the legacy of the larger businesses that I have been involved in, particularly with ATG, is that we tried to address that, and actually I was very encouraged, you know, now large companies have to publish their statistics of the gender pay gap but actually of all the large live theatre groups in the UK, ATG for the last two years has definitely come out the best which I would say probably is a legacy of mine, our CFO, Helen, who was with me there for many years, we worked very, very hard to have equal representation of women and man and when I was running it we really did have, genuinely, equality in terms of the senior management. I think it’s such a waste otherwise. Why would you want to waste half the talent and resource in the land without hearing what they’ve got to say and what they’ve got to contribute? Sonia Friedman and was very much part of that team when we were building ATG and look at her, you know, she arguably one of the world’s finest producers, most prolific, she’s most recognised and is in an amazing talent. Why would you want to miss out on half the talent of the world? And not… And I’ve always said, you know, my job would be done and I would get off my soapbox when our National Theatre, which is all of ours, we all fund it, has had not its first female artistic director but its second. We still haven’t had the first yet so I am still on the soapbox I have to say.

Elliot Moss
And what do you think? I mean, obviously you made active decisions and you looked at the talent base and you said I want brilliant men and brilliant women. Is it any more complicated than that? I mean, am I missing something or is it just that people stick to a kind of sexist view of the world? Because this is what I struggle with, it seems so obvious what one ought to do.

Dame Rosemary Squire
I think you do have to create conditions where it’s okay to balance your family life and your working life. And I have to say I think that’s true for everybody. You know, I have always felt that we should have generous maternity and paternity provisions, that it’s okay to have a family. It was okay we invented job sharing and working from home, you know, twenty plus years ago and when the technology was nothing like as good. Predominantly it was women who did that because, you know, I had young children myself and actually it’s something I always say about leadership, when you are the boss you can actually really make a difference, you can change, which is why we should all aim high, you know, girls and young women should aim high, should want to get to the top because it’s when you are at the top you can actually make a difference. I think the imbalance is still there in terms of casts, you know, 50/50 if you look down the Radio Times, you will see in film and television that women are still fairly massively under represented, as are different ethnic minorities too, but it is something that, you miss part of the story if you don’t include everybody, particularly women, you know, 45 to 75 there’s a sort of massive gap that you either become a national treasure or you are glamorous and young, but in between lots of women just disappear.

Elliot Moss
We’ll have our final chat with my guest today, that’s Dame Rosemary Squire, plus play a track from Joe Henderson, that’s in just a moment, don’t go anywhere.

That was Joe Henderson with Night and Day. I am with Dame Rosemary Squire who I just call Rosemary now because we are very close. I’ve dropped the Dame just within thirty minutes. I’m just with her for a few more minutes. You talked about women in the workplace and everything you said must be right. Your own personal style, you strike me as somebody who is utterly fair, who looks at the big picture. I imagine you don’t suffer fools very well. If you don’t, how do you deal with that? Is there a, again it strikes me that you would be quite ‘relaxed’ is the wrong word, but you wouldn’t be petulant. Sometimes people get stroppy, don’t they, with people who aren’t performing and especially in a more artistic environment. How have you managed that over the years?

Dame Rosemary Squire
I think, I think I have always felt people should work hard and do their very best and unfortunately it has often come to me to be the one who says it’s not working, I think you have to give people clear parameters, I think you have to be good on the communication, I think you have to measure, you know, do all the opportunities to put things right and if it really doesn’t work, you have to be brave and bold and say it really isn’t working, and that happens sometimes. Not very often because I think if you invest a lot of time and effort in trying to choose the right people then it happens much less frequently.

Elliot Moss
The things you talked about in terms of get to the top, women get to the top and then you can actually, you know, be a role model, it strikes me again that it’s important to you to be a role model, I just want to embarrass you for a moment, you have become, you got your Damehood last year for services for theatre and philanthropy – again I haven’t even talked about the £17 million plus that you have raised since 2010, or been part of, which is extraordinary, for I think it’s the Tick Tock Club at the Great Ormond Street Hospital. So now I have talked about it which is good. First woman to represent the UK at the World Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2015, the only woman to have won the EYUK Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Do these things mean anything to you? Do you like them? Does it matter? Or is there something bigger that drives you?

Dame Rosemary Squire
I suppose I have always looked at it as trying to be a positive role model. You know, I think I would say to any young woman, you need your education, you know, think of your education as being tools in your toolkit and really study something that you love but those skills, you know, I developed an amazing memory because I studied three languages and I was fluent in three foreign languages as well as English, and I think you need basic skills to get on in any job, so you need your education, you need your networks and that’s your peers, and often women are particularly bad at doing that, you know, we don’t go to the pub after the office, we’ve always got to rush off or get home or pick the kids up or whatever, but you do need networks and even if it’s a bit artificial I have been involved in lots of networking for women, and I think you’ve got aim high and not be afraid of aiming high which an awful lot of woman I think still find as tricky, you know, they don’t want to stand out, they don’t want to be the one who is looked at, but I think if you’ve got a vision, you need to invest in that vision and give yourself time and space to give it a texture and a colour and, you know, fill in the blanks and to really invest in that, and to go for it.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of money, it’s a, I mean your passion is obviously about, as we talked about, bringing arts to the masses, it’s about quality, you’ve also got with the Boards that you are on, National Member of the Arts Council, Joint Chair of the Hall for Cornwall.

Dame Rosemary Squire
I’ve just stepped down from the Arts Council after nearly ten years. I think I was their longest serving member.

Elliot Moss
Okay, well there you go. I mean these things say to me, yes the money is important but you’ve got a much bigger goal in life.

Dame Rosemary Squire
I think you’ve got to put back haven’t you. You’ve really got to put back that I’ve been fortunate, I was given opportunities and I think you’ve got to reinvest back into things and I feel that very strongly. I also think when I was running the market leader, I think if you are the leader in a sector, you’ve got to have views and opinions and to be seen and to be out there so I spent a lot of time when I was ATG being the outward facing representative, having an opinion about whatever the issue of the day might be.

Elliot Moss
It’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you and I think a lot of food for thought and some really great simple, wise words for people – men and women – thinking about moving into this crazy world called telling stories. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Dame Rosemary Squire
My song choice is the unique Aretha Franklin, she is just amazing. I remember her at Barack Obama’s inauguration with that amazing hat with a huge bow on it on that freezing cold day and I have chosen Respect because I think she is the woman singing this song, is confident, strong and she is how I would like to be in life.

Elliot Moss
That was Aretha Franklin and Respect, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Dame Rosemary Squire. She talked about the importance of telling stories in whatever form and that’s really driven her whole ethos in life. She talked about the vision that she and her partner had for creating an integrated offering in the theatre world and that’s exactly what she did. And she also talked about women in business, how important it was to have an education, to have your networks and to be a role model when you are at the top and to give back; all the things that she absolutely does. Brilliant stuff. That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a great weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds more guests available for you to listen to in our archive. To find out more, just search Jazz Shapers and iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Dame Rosemary Squire OBE is one of the most prominent women in British theatre of the modern era. Since she co-founded the Ambassador Theatre Group in 1992, it has gone onto become the world’s number one live-theatre company. 

In 2016, Squire stepped down from her post as CEO to move into a new creative phase.  Her latest venture with Sir Howard Panter is Trafalgar Entertainment, an innovative live entertainment business and home to Trafalgar Studios, Trafalgar Theatre Productions, Stagecoach Performing Arts and Trafalgar Releasing. 

In 2014, she made history as the first woman to be named EY UK Entrepreneur of the Year. She was a National Member of the Arts Council England Board for almost 10 years and Joint Chair of The Hall for Cornwall.  As Chair of Great Ormond Street’s Theatres for Theatres Appeal she raised over £5m and now Chairs another major appeal to raise £10m for the hospital. 

Rosemary and her husband/business partner, Sir Howard Panter, have topped The Stage 100 for seven consecutive record-breaking years.  

In 2007 Rosemary was awarded an OBE for Services to Theatre and in the 2018 New Year Honours she was named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for Services to Theatre and Philanthropy. 

Interview highlights

We are very fortunate in the UK that there’s brilliant theatre up and down the country. I saw cutting edge work with wonderful actors in my formative years and by the time I was late teens I already knew that I responded to those stories.

I wanted to be part of it. I think theatre is a way of life, it’s certainly not a nine to five job.

It’s a massive challenge in this country that performing arts, creative arts are being taught less and less in schools. I got a lot of exposure through school and through home life as well, and many, many kids don’t have that opportunity.

Nobody is saying that all the kids who go to Stagecoach are going to become actors, but an hour of singing, dancing and acting a week gives great skills for life. It’s about learning how to be part of a team, to present yourself, to look somebody in the eye.

Working with your husband has its plusses and minuses. You certainly can’t leave work at the front door, but you get a great shorthand, you can work together as a team and, in our case, it’s worked professionally because we have very different skills.

If you are going to work in a call centre, try and work in a call centre that’s related to something you are interested in. Work in a bar in a theatre because you will probably get to see the shows.

I am very proud that we have a young, brand new production team that were all put together since we started Trafalgar, but we actually got twelve Olivier nominations last year – that was very encouraging and very heartening.

I’ve really tried to make a difference as a boss. I’ve been banging on for more years than I care to remember, decades, about equality and representation and equal rights.

You have to create conditions where it’s okay to balance your family life and your working life. And I have to say I think that’s true for everybody. I have always felt that we should have generous maternity and paternity provisions, that it’s okay to have a family.

Girls and young women should aim high, should want to get to the top, because it’s when you are at the top that you can actually make a difference.

Think of your education as a tool in your toolkit and really study something that you love, and you need networks – even if it’s a bit artificial. If you’ve got a vision, you need to invest in that vision and give yourself time and space to give it texture and colour and, you know, fill in the blanks, and go for it.

You’ve got to put money back haven’t you? You’ve got to reinvest back into things. I feel that very strongly.

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