1. Where is home?
‘Home’ as in where I was born is Harrow, Middlesex – John Betjeman’s Metroland. Half the county disappeared under bricks and mortar in the 1920s and ‘30s so it is not a place with deep roots. I’ve never envisaged going back, though, too much has changed and for the worse.
Home now is Kelso, where we are squeezed into what was our weekend house whilst we lived in Knaresborough, Yorkshire; but from mid-2017 we expect to be in Berwick-upon-Tweed where we are renovating a former convent with a (potentially) wonderful walled garden. Most of my and Alison’s family are north of the Tyne now, so the Borders are home now.
2. What was your first job?
Pulling pints in ‘The Castle’ on Harrow Hill, whilst I waited for the outcome of interviews! The pub is still there, unaltered, though the food has improved from chicken in the basket. For a salary I first worked in the University Library at Leeds and stayed with the University for 13 years, latterly running a business unit inside the Medical School.
If I count student jobs? I delivered telephone books in Auckland, New Zealand; taught economics in Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe still just was); and delivered the Christmas post for three years.
3. What part did your education play in deciding your future career?
I suppose I’d always been of an academic bent and thought that something in that milieu would suit me – at 21 one doesn’t always think of the financial rewards. So within the university I moved sideways into a publishing role, was offered a job in commercial publishing in Oxfordshire, and went on from there to end up as MD of a company employing over 60 people on three continents. But I was still working in the academic community, commissioning content from researchers, so I think I’ve always talked the language of scholarship.
4. When did you join TRI Cap and what motivated you to become a member?
I’m one of the newest members, joining in 2016 at Rob Dick’s suggestion. He certainly didn’t hold out the prospect of unlimited wealth creation! But I did sense that this is an organisation intended to support part of the economy of the Borders where I’ve chosen to live; it provides an alternative form of investment, certainly; and the companies TRI Cap supports are small businesses which in time I might be able to assist with skills I’ve acquired myself.
5. What keeps you involved?
From the outset I’ve seen presentations from a cross-section of business in sectors about which I know little; but they all interest me, the good and the less thoughtful, and as time goes by I start to see similarities between them – not least an insouciance about the importance of sales – and learn. I suppose there’s a vicarious interest in being associated with a business from start-up and there’s the excitement that next up might be a business where I can see a way to making a contribution.
6. What are the key elements that attract you to particular investee companies?
At most presentations it’s obvious that the speaker believes in the product, although in the last year I think that maybe one or two were either on a chance or perhaps had been working on the product for so long they had stopped thinking critically. What isn’t always clear, and this is where some businesses stand out, ones I’ve chosen to support, is their confidence in the process they have set to achieve sales targets, gain market presence and make an exit. These are the ones that seem willing to make changes, to management or to strategy, because they have a vision of where they are headed. I would also prefer to support businesses that generate employment in the Borders.
7. What annoys you in life?
Anyone who says “we’ve always done it this way”! I’ve a tendency to wish that if something is worth doing, it should be done now, if not yesterday, so I cannot easily bear procrastination. I’m also developing a Blimpish tendency to say to our children “things aren’t what they were when I was your age” but I do regret the lack of rigour in education (compared to what I had), in standards of public life, and the pre-processed platitudes of many modern politicians and public sector-speak.
8. How do you relax?
I’m still not sure I have time to relax! I have a part-time NED job, a house renovation to oversee, various property interests, and a family to keep up with. I expect to do a great deal of walking in the Borders: our son who once complained of being dragged up the Cheviots is now a mountain leader for the Scouts and I endeavour to keep up with him. I read a lot, particularly history, it should inform the present day.
Every year I spend a week or two in the west and north of Scotland crewing for the same skipper. People ask me how I can spend 12 hours in a day going at 7 mph but perhaps they’ve not see the fantastic scenery and islands: on my last birthday I steered us under the Skye bridge in a force 9 gale and was at anchor in Gairloch for champagne on a sunlit evening. I’m hoping to get afloat more now I live here.
9. Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
I’d like to think I’ve another business venture in me, in some way connected to what I’ve done, but it has to be enjoyable too. Meanwhile there are still plenty of places in the world to visit, many of them just glimpsed between airport and a conference venue on business: much of America outside the big cities, for a start, and a lot of Europe. I made a four-week trip to India when I stopped work, we have another visit planned for a year’s time and there is still much more to see there.
Of course, I have ambitions for our children but I hope we’ve set them off in the right direction and they can work out their lives.
10. What advice would you give to any aspiring young business people who are just starting out?
I regret never stopping to acquire an MBA or similar, and then it became impossible to take the time out of job and family life, so do it early. Friends with an MBA have found that it has enhanced both their career and their enjoyment of the jobs they’ve had. Instead, I was busy being an officer in the Territorial Army which gave certain skills of leadership and command – useful in the Cold War, perhaps, but not all of which one can use in the modern workplace!