Follow the leader:
As a teenager growing up in Bothwell, Sandy Kennedy recalls spending many summers helping out in his father’s laundry business.
It was an early education in business life for the young man who, nevertheless, would leave home for Oxbridge with little idea of how his future career might pan out.
“I know that many parents urge their children to become doctors or lawyers. Mine didn’t, but I became one anyway,” he says.
Kennedy worked for a City legal practice for four years and later for the venture capital firm 3i, before returning to Scotland to study for an MBA at Strathclyde University and to run a division of the family firm, Bowie Castlebank.
Its fall into administration at the end of 2009 was another lesson for Kennedy and one that made him appreciate the emotions and distress that go with company closures.
“It was tough and very sobering. A business partner told me we had to be able to look ourselves and our staff in the eye and know that we had done our best,” he says.
These days Kennedy is putting his experiences – good and bad – into helping others through his role as chief executive of Entrepreneurial Scotland, the networking group.
It grew out of the Entrepreneurial Exchange, a pioneer in peer-to-peer support that launched in the 1990s to bring together start-ups and experienced business leaders to share ideas. Those were the days when Richard Emanuel, David Sibbald and the computer games developer Chris van der Kuyl were making headlines as a new generation of self-made businessmen.
“It’s still got the same ethos of being ‘by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs’ though we’ve broadened what we do,” says Kennedy, speaking ahead of Thursday’s annual Entrepreneurial Scotland Summit at Gleneagles.
“We needed to focus on those companies seeking to grow to the next stage”
Some 250 to 300 delegates will attend the event to hear a line-up of speakers address them around the theme of scaling-up. Sherry Coutu, who chairs the Scale-Up Institute, is among the line-up.
“It was felt that we needed to focus on those companies seeking to grow to the next stage,” says Kennedy, noting that Sir Tom Hunter, one of the founders of the Exchange, recently stated that Scotland had “cracked” the start-up problem and was now producing a steady flow of new businesses.
Hunter referred to research stating that if there were 1% more scale-ups in the UK this would yield 150,000 jobs and add £225 billion to GDP by 2034. He declared that “Scotland needs to disproportionately lead in this”.
Kennedy agrees, but says this does not mean abandoning help for start-ups. “We need to ensure they continue to build momentum. The problem we face with scaling up businesses is that the help available is fragmented.”
This has led him to believe that collaboration will determine the next phase of support. To that end he is in talks with other organisations in the start-up field such as Informatics Ventures, organiser of the EIE event, and the Power of Youth which has just merged with Bruce Walker’s We Are The Future, organiser of the Start-Up Summit.
Kennedy,who sits on the Informatics Ventures board, reveals that next year the various organisations may work more closely together under a “festival” umbrella.
“The idea is to bring more coherence for the benefit of the customer. It would allow us to point them to certain events and avoid creating confusion.”
He accepts that they all have to prove some measure of success and understands why some question what they are achieving when Scotland’s economic growth remains sluggish.
“We have great universities and business schools, and top economists. I believe the weakness is in leadership. If you have a great idea with a great leader you can make a great company. I’m not sure we are creating the enough great leaders.
“The US attributes the gap in productivity to the quality of leadership.”
It brings him back to this week’s Summit and why it remains important.
“I hope that it can provide some help, some inspiration that will spur on the next leaders.”
Education: Cambridge University (law)
Career Highlights: qualified lawyer with Ashursts in London specialising in private equity; joined 3i, the venture capital firm, in 1996 and worked on a mix of traditional leveraged deals and tech venture capital; commercial director at Bowie Castlebank; development director, then CEO Saltire Foundation
In 2000, won the Chris Hill Prize for best overall MBA student at the University of Strathclyde.
On the Advisory Boards of The Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, MIT REAP Scotland, Informatics Ventures and The Scottish EDGE Fund, and is on the Board of Social Investment Scotland