Learning from each others mistakes

Learning from each others mistakes

As chief executive at membership body Entrepreneurial Scotland, Sandy Kennedy knows a thing or two about scale-ups. Journalist Karen Peattie picked his brains over lunch at The Finnieston in Glasgow.

It’s a sunny day in Glasgow and Sandy Kennedy, chief executive of Entrepreneurial Scotland, has a spring in his step. Barely has he sat down to lunch in The Finnieston – one of his members’, Kained Holdings’, outlets – and he’s using words like “positive”, “innovative”, “inspirational” and “exciting” to describe the world of business north of the Border.

“Take this place as an example,” he says. “Kained Holdings is securing a niche for itself in the hospitality industry through its focus on quality, great customer service and great food – seafood in the case of The Finnieston. The owners have done their market research and created a great concept that adds interest and something a little different in a busy marketplace – and they’re helping put the Finnieston area itself back on the map.”

Kennedy chooses hand-dived Tarbert scallops – which he insists on sharing because “they’re so good” – followed by fish and chips featuring coley, the market fish of day. Kained Holdings operations director Scott Arnot, a member of Entrepreneurial Scotland’s Exchange network, then pops over to say hello, talking about the previous week’s Entrepreneurial Scotland annual conference at Gleneagles – he admits to being “hugely inspired” by the experience.

The conference attracted 280-plus delegates and was Entrepreneurial Scotland’s biggest for 10 years. Big-hitting speakers included former professional basketball player Bill Aulet, now senior lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, plus a raft of top business leaders ranging from Brian Duffy, past-president of Ralph Lauren Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA), through to Jim McColl of Clyde Blowers and Entrepreneurial Scotland chairman Chris van der Kuyl of 4J Studios.

It’s not often that such a stellar line-up of entrepreneurs gathers under the same roof but the support for the event was indicative of the confidence in Entrepreneurial Scotland, which has continued to evolve since its creation following the merger of two of Scotland’s driving forces in talent creation and entrepreneurship, the Saltire Foundation and the Entrepreneurial Exchange. It was the perfect environment for an ambitious company like Kained Holdings.

“What it has given us is an organisation with more than 1,000 members – our Exchange network alone has around 400 members – representing in excess of £17bn of turnover and employing around 150,000 people,” Kennedy points out. “There’s so much talent and innovation across all business sectors but we need to help these young companies scale up and the people who have been there and are at the top of their game are in the ideal position to nurture that talent and help them on the next stage of their journey.”

As any entrepreneur will tell you there’s much more to success than coming up with a good business idea. Kennedy says, “I’ve yet to meet an entrepreneur who hasn’t made mistakes and scale-ups need to hear about what’s gone wrong as well the success stories.

Finnieston 01

“We heard at the conference in April from our chairman Chris van der Kuyl, who said that Scotland is great at start-ups but not so good at world-class scale-ups and this is what’s behind the new Fellows of Entrepreneurial Scotland initiative we’ve set up to help established businesses that are well past the start-up stage and looking to move up to the next level.”

The first cohort a 17-strong group of Scotland’s leading entrepreneurs has pledged to further assist growth businesses across all sectors of the economy and society. Ann Gloag, Ann Budge, Bob Keiller, Sir Tom Hunter and Jim McColl are among its members who will adopt an active role as ambassadors for Entrepreneurial Scotland.

“It’s about sharing experiences and demonstrating how their particular styles of leadership skills have worked for them,” Kennedy explains. “Clearly, we want to inspire these growth companies because these are our future industry leaders.

“But you need to place yourself in an environment where you can meet people who can share their experiences with you,” he points out. “We all have our view on ‘networking’ but you only need to meet one person at a conference who says something that resonates or hear one speaker who particularly inspires you and that day spent out of your business has been worth it.”

But it works both ways, suggests Kennedy. “Our most successful business leaders will tell you they’re on a never-ending journey – they never stop learning and their hunger for knowledge remains voracious. So, while they’re on a mission to identify and nurture future talent, they’re also keen to pick up hints and tips along the way”.

Kennedy describes Entrepreneurial Scotland as a world-class business network. “This bigger, stronger organisation means we have more clout and stature – and I would point out that we’re not just here for the private sector,” says Kennedy. “We are here to help all those who have an entrepreneurial mindset so we need to hear the experiences of those running public-sector organisations, too.”

Sandy Kennedy 02

The recent conference, for example, gave a platform to Steve Dunlop, chief executive of Scottish Canals, whose commitment to making his organisation successful and taking it to the next level “rivals that of our highest-profile entrepreneurs”, according to Kennedy. “You listen to someone like that who doesn’t own the business but has the passion, determination and foresight to keep pushing it forward – that’s really inspiring.”

One of its most successful projects – the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s only rotating boat lift – is to undergo a £1m improvement programme to upgrade and develop new visitor experiences. More than 600,000 people visited the Falkirk Wheel in 2015, making it Scotland’s busiest tourist attraction outside a city.

“The more experiences we can share from as wide a cross-section of business people the better,” Kennedy believes. “Running any business can be lonely at times and we have a great number of people with a massive amount of experience who are willing to engage with individuals who want to listen. But that’s the important thing – someone has to want to get involved and expose themselves to that experience. Listening to other people is so important in business.”

And it’s certainly not about ego. “These top-flight entrepreneurs may command column inches on the business pages but they continue to face challenges as they develop their own companies – yet they’re still prepared to give up their time to help others. They genuinely care and they recognise they have a role to play in influencing the next generation – they want to give something back.”

While entrepreneurs are regularly called upon to tell their business stories, it is often those at the growth stage who are best at engaging with young people embarking on their career. “Imagine you’re at school,” says Kennedy. “You don’t really know what you want to do but you know you want to do something great. So when a former pupil who is a Saltire Scholar and is maybe just five or six years older than you comes back to speak to you – that’s very powerful and very persuasive. We need to build more peer engagement.”

He points to the Saltire Foundation, founded by the renowned GlobalScot network, as a key contributor to Scotland’s future economic growth, comparing a Saltire Scholarship to a Rhodes Scholarship, widely viewed as the most prestigious international scholarship programme in the world. “Everyone involved is extremely proud that the programme’s grown to become considered as a blue riband among scholarships,” he says.

“We’re in this great position where members of Entrepreneurial Scotland can access talent from the Future Leaders network and vice versa. We can identify the expertise our businesses need and use the raw talent that comes up through the Saltire programmes and also tap into the GlobalScot network – it’s really exciting.”

Kennedy himself was brought up in an entrepreneurial household, started working in his family’s dry-cleaning and photo shop business in Lanarkshire at the age of 14, and picking up some early skills that would hold him in good stead later on. “I learned about humility and being respectful to people and about working hard,” he said. “I found myself in a customer-facing environment with people who were much more experienced than me but there was no special treatment for me because I was the boss’s son.”

After graduating from the University of Cambridge and qualifying as a lawyer with a London firm specialising in private equity, Kennedy joined venture capitalist 3i. In 2000, he won the Chris Hill Prize for being the best overall master of business administration (MBA) student at the University of Strathclyde’s business school, later using his commercial background to start up his family’s Bowie Castlebank Group.

The business – which experienced rapid growth and, at one point, had 600-plus UK-wide retail outlets trading as Klick Photopoint and Max Spielmann, and provided off-site photo-processing services for Tesco – fell victim to the advent of digital photography. “We had to shut a lot of shops but managed to get back into sales growth,” says Kennedy.

“Then the credit crunch hit and the rest is history. We had more than 3,000 employees and it was a tough time. But, at the end of the day, we were able to look everyone in the eye in the knowledge we’d acted with the utmost integrity and done our very best.

“It was upsetting saying goodbye to a family business that had been there for generations but everyone rallied and there was a bit of the Dunkirk spirit in those final stages,” he recalls. “I always feel empathy for a business that’s going through a tough time because I’ve been there.”

Kennedy’s own experience of seeing his business go into administration made him realise that his own personal network of contacts was “rubbish”. “I didn’t really know what I was going to do,” he admits. “I didn’t know who to contact. I was then approached by Crawford Gillies, who was chairman of Scottish Enterprise, to consider leading the Saltire Foundation. That was in 2009 and it’s been an amazing journey.”

Becoming chief executive of Entrepreneurial Scotland in 2014 with the merger of the Entrepreneurial Exchange and the Saltire Foundation, Kennedy has since forged stronger relationships with other business groups and sits on the advisory boards for the Scottish Edge Fund, the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) and Social Investment Scotland.

Who does Kennedy admire in business? “So many people, but Mike Loggie of Saltire Energy in Aberdeen was Entrepreneurial Scotland’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015 and he has continued to invest during the downturn in the oil and gas industry, choosing to reach out and seize opportunities that others will miss out on because they’re scaling back because of the perceived risk,” he says.

“Mike believes it is more risky to follow the crowd and that is a very compelling rationale – and a truly entrepreneurial spirit that we can all learn from.”

The Finnieston

Finnieston 02

The Finnieston is part of Kained Holdings, the independent Glasgow-based bar and restaurant group that also owns Lebowskis, Porter & Rye, The Crafty Pig and So, What Comes Next?

Renowned for its fresh seafood, which is sustainable, the award-winning bar and restaurant opened in the oldest building on Argyle Street – in the 18th century it was a drovers’ tavern – in September 2011. As well as its food, The Finnieston has gained a reputation for its selection of gins and cocktails. With the emphasis on its quality food and friendly, laid-back atmosphere that fits in well with the Finnieston area’s vibe – its regeneration has seen it become a magnet for foodies. The Finnieston attracts a broad mix of customers, from locals and those seeking to experience the hospitality scene outwith the city centre. Managing director Graham Suttle won the BQ Emerging Entrepreneur Award for Scotland in February.

Along with fellow directors Scott Arnot and Mo Clark, his vision is to adhere to the firm’s core values of honesty, continuous development and community. So, What Comes Next? is the former Crosslands pub in Glasgow’s West End, which featured in the famous scene in the movie Trainspotting where Robert Carlyle’s hardman character Francis Begbie throws a glass from a balcony, causing a riot.

The Finnieston, 1125 Argyle Street, Finnieston, Glasgow, G3 8ND, www.thefinniestonbar.com