WDA’s founder Lee Waterhouse moved from Jersey to Nottingham in 1990 to study for a degree in structural engineering. Thanks to a family member Lee was able to work between studies for a large advertising agency, and quickly realised that designing steel framed buildings was not his calling.
When a junior designer vacancy came up Lee seized the opportunity and abandoned the degree.
The agency was a multiple D&AD award winning Direct Marketing Agency, specialising in the financial sector and counting nearly every big financial house, building society and bank as clients at the time.
At this point desktop publishing was just starting to blow up, and Lee decided to get involved by investing in a DTP night school course and was soon up and running using Pagemaker! The one problem, his agency wasn’t embracing the technology, and neither were the others; DTP primarily being adopted first by pre-press repro type companies.
With a family background in motorsports, Lee had started his automotive journey Christmas morning 1979, on a Honda XR75.
In the coming years he became heavily involved in motorcycle trials, motocross and enduro and was competing at national expert level. His father founded the YMSA trial and motocross association, and weekends were spent setting up and helping run its events.
It was at one of these events Lee met fellow competitor Sam Neil who owned a very successful design and marketing agency. Sam mentioned he had some freelance work, and Lee agreed to an initial project which went really well, so they did another. And another.
Then the call came and Sam explained he had a bigger opportunity and Lee agreed to meet up to discuss. The automotive brands they had been working on together came via a distribution business called Eurohelmets, owned by Sam’s father and built on its original AGV helmet distribution business, secured at the time the helmet laws came in.
Sam’s father was handing the reins over and moving to France, and Sam was keen to move some of the design and marketing business which had until that point been with his own design agency to someone new to balance his interests in both firms.
Sam offered space within his new HQ based in Nottingham, provided Lee could commit to setting up a mac based studio, employing a small team, and bringing in his own business to complement the Euro work.
At the time Lee had just been promoted and purchased a brand new Honda Fireblade with the raise. After much soul-searching, he felt forced to decline the offer, feeling it far too risky to give up his agency career, and a dependable salary.
Feeling pretty fed up Lee went for a ride out with mates that weekend to Donington to watch the British GP. The sun was shining and it was an epic race with Doohan just edging Okada for the victory.
On the ride home, Lee started to think about Sam’s offer, and an agency concept combining his automotive passion with his new career in design and marketing and his then pretty unique and in demand DTP skills. The idea was to offer a similar specialist service to that of his employer; but within the automotive sector – giving those clients a distinct competitive edge by delivering better branding and marketing solutions – faster and more efficiently.
Back then the Fireblade was worth about the cost of a decent used Macintosh Quadra. Lee wrote the ad for his bike that evening, and phoned Sam. Unofficially and without even realising, that Sunday evening WDA was born.