Meet the MD: Alan Laidlaw of RHASS

Meet the MD: Alan Laidlaw of RHASS

Alan Laidlaw is chief executive of The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, leading the 232 year old organisation across all of its activities in Scotland. Despite spending some time in banking, he has always worked with the agricultural sector, and is extremely passionate about some of the beautiful rural areas Scotland has to offer. He caught up with BQ to tell us more…


I’m still learning what my role is at the moment, being a recent appointment. As chief executive of the Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) I lead the organisation in all its activities across Scotland.

The business is a long established organisation, 232 years old to be exact, most people will know us for the Royal Highland Show, but we are so much more than that.


What is it the company does?

Our most well-known activity is the Royal Highland Show.

For four days each June we welcome over 190,000 to the Royal Highland Centre for one of the UK’s largest outdoor events.  It’s primarily an agricultural event, but also packed with entertainment, activities, shopping, food, drink as well as lots of business being done.

It is, in my opinion, the best day out in Scotland and contributes over £46million to the economy.

We are also: a charity, handing out over £100,000 in awards and grants each year to individuals that are contributing to the growth and success of the agricultural and allied industries in Scotland; a versatile events and conference venue through the Royal Highland Centre; and one of the largest providers of outdoor school visits to children and a passionate advocate for rural life across Scotland through our education charity, the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET). 

You could say we celebrate food, farming and rural Life on a daily basis


Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

Trained as a rural practice surveyor and member of RICS, I then moved into banking and finance, but still dealing with agriculture and rural businesses.

That role developed and grew, but also came at a time that (pre 2008) banks were changing, so when an opportunity came up within The Crown Estate to lead their investment programme on their rural estate, I jumped at the chance and returned to Scotland.

I spent 11 years with The Crown Estate and had a number of roles, covering all types of rural and coastal assets right across the whole of the UK.

It was a fascinating and hugely rewarding role.

I enjoy working in partnership with people to make more from the brilliant rural assets we have in Scotland and that’s what drew me to RHASS.  It’s an honour to take the reigns of the organisation, and seemed like a very logical, and exciting, next role.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

Passion, integrity and clarity.


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

I think the biggest challenge we face is the growing gap between rural and urban Scotland and making sure that the Society leads the agricultural community in a rapidly changing landscape. Brexit, future support and funding for rural development and an increasingly urban-based population will all mean that rural businesses need to adapt to thrive. For our asset base, it will be delivering a strong programme of investment and development in a very challenging market.


How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Family and sport - I play a little rugby - and enjoying all the great outdoors has to offer.


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up

A farmer – honestly!


Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

Over promising and under delivery. Lack of integrity. I try to be as open as I can be and ensure those who set unrealistic goals understand that it can cause issues for others if they don’t deliver.  I look for honesty and being honest with yourself is always the starting point.


Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

Leading rural Scotland, which is very much where we are now, only in a changed landscape.  Food, farming and rural life will always be at the heart of our business, but our relationship with the Scotland and globally will continue to change, much like it has since when we started out in 1784…


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Follow your heart into areas of work that excite you, learn from those around you, and reflect on the bad experiences; you often learn more from them than you do the great and simple parts of your career. Never be scared to ask for help, support or mentoring if you see someone you respect or want to learn from. They can only say no, but what if they said yes?