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Articles of Association: The youth of today

Continuing the new regular column from Licensing International, Steve Manners shines the spotlight on the Rising Stars of the UK licensing industry.

Tonight (12 September) the UK industry will come together for The Licensing Awards. And, once again, Licensing International is sponsoring the UK Rising Star award – something I have had the pleasure of being involved in for the first time.

Because it turns out that one of my favourite things about my role at Licensing International is working with our Young Professionals Network (YPN), engaging with those in the industry aged 35 and under. And while I was initially a little unsure of how I would relate to the group ahead of my first YPN event just after I joined LI, it turned out to be a fantastic evening. As much as I realised that our YPN members valued the experience and advice I could offer, it was even more valuable to me to realise how much I could learn from them.

I had the same reaction when reading through all the submissions for the UK Rising Star award. To say the entrants and the eventual finalists are outstanding is an understatement. I remember contacting Ian Hyder [ceo at Max Publishing, which owns and organises The Licensing Awards] and asking where we would start from a judging point of view, as they all were so incredibly talented and have already made a major impression in the industry.

Recognising young talent in our industry is incredibly important. When talking to LI members and the licensing community, one of the most common requests we get as a trade organisation is to further the cause of licensing by both helping to nurture young talent and to engage and encourage newcomers into the industry.

I have yet, in my entire career, to meet a single person who knew they wanted to work in the industry. One of the most common quotes you will hear is “I just fell into it.” And it’s true, virtually every single one of us came to licensing by a circuitous route – for me it was via independent radio advertising sales. I really wanted to work for an advertising agency but needed print ad experience. I secured a role at a trade publication that specialised in the licensing industry and became fascinated by it, ultimately moving into a sister division, a newly established licensing agency. That was over 30 years ago and have never regretted it.

Licensing is a fantastic industry, full of opportunity, and not just in sales and marketing but also creative, design, finance, legal, business affairs and retail. And the more we can do to bring talent into the industry, the better.

Celebrating those relatively new to the industry as they develop their careers is incredibly important. They bring new ideas, new perspectives, enthusiasm and relevancy.

I want to take a moment to highlight the UK Rising Star nominees 2023 – each and every one of them is outstanding and brings something unique to the industry.

  • Thomas Dimech, senior retail and brand manager, Retail Monster
  • Gemma Fitzgibbon, licensing manager, Funko EMEA
  • Rakhee Ghelani, category manager – beauty and care, Universal Products & Experiences
  • Oliver Gilding, exclusive brands manager, Iceland Foods
  • Donovan De Klerk, global licensing manager, Exquisite Gaming
  • Max Pilcher, FMCG & hardlines, consumer products coordinator EMEA, Mattel
  • Leigh Simpson, global licensing manager, Arsenal Football Club
  • Melissa Tudor, creative director, Fanattik
  • Ellie Yarnell, head of buying, Vanilla Underground



In addition to sponsoring the UK Rising Star Award, Licensing International also hosts the Global Rising Star Awards, presented in December in New York. This recognises those under 35 from the industry around the world.

As we get close to announcing the UK Rising Star of 2023, one thing is very clear. The UK licensing industry is in very safe hands with such outstanding talent. Good luck to all the nominees at the awards and I look forward to seeing you tonight.

Steve Manners is head of global marketing and UK managing director at Licensing International.

Founded in 1985, more than 1,500 Licensing International member companies in over 40 countries enjoy access to an array of benefits, including extensive educational programming and worldwide networking events.

Visit for more information.

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