Interview: Gill Baird, owner, Cosmedicare
Workmen were putting the finishing touches to Gill Baird’s new head office and clinic at the Gyle business park and she was keen to offer a tour around the new facilities, fitted out with £100,000 of her own money.
It’s been quite a journey from Glasgow’s east end, leaving school with no qualifications and handling some difficult personal and business relationships, but one thing she hasn’t lost is her home city’s sense of humour.
“Do you want to see my boobs?” she says, cheekily leading me into a freshly-painted white-walled room where a boob bar displays the various types of implants on offer. She grabs a couple and gives them a squeeze as if testing vegetables on a market stall.
Baird is the owner of Cosmedicare, a provider of treatments that the professionals describe as aesthetic injectables, non surgical anti-ageing treatments, and such like, more commonly known to you and me as cosmetic surgery.
“I don’t go to clubs much these days,” she says. “When I tell women what I do I get them in the toilets lifting their tops and asking what I can do for them.”
It was in one well-heeled nightclub in central Glasgow that she came across Michelle Mone with whom she has been compared.
“We come from the same area and have some of the same friends. We’ve met a couple of times but that’s it.”
Does she model herself on Lady Mone’s success? She hesitates. “Let’s just say you have to hand it to her. She’s done well.”
It’s fair to say that there is a tragi-comedy theme to Gill Baird’s life. One minute she is joking about her young days as a bit of a tearaway, the next she is reflecting on a few near misses with danger, selling her tanning business in Glasgow’s east end at a time when the sector was being infiltrated by those with ulterior motives.
“It was turning into something like the ice cream wars,” she says, adding that she launched the business after attending a salon to help with her eczema. The owner spotted in her an ability to be her own boss and, in any case, her grandfather had run a string of businesses so the idea wasn’t entirely new to the family.
She persuaded her grandmother to lend her £5,000 and her uncle fitted out a dilapidated launderette. She was only just out of school and built it into a seven salon chain. She was still only 21 when she sold the company and by then she also had a young son who needed medical care.
“It was a stepping stone,” she says. It also confirmed in her that she was destined to be an employer rather than employed.
She admits to being stubborn and not always an easy person to work for, but says she has learned a lot and mellowed over the years. In any case, her stubbornness also made her determined to overcome obstacles.
“I went for jobs but got turned down because I had no qualifications,” she says. She did a bit of temping work, including a stint at Barlinnie prison, and finally landed her first ‘proper’ job with a company in transport management.
“The guy I worked for was brilliant. I learned about business processes and was doing well, but I couldn’t get promotion, again because of the lack of qualifications.”
She took up adult training at Strathclyde University and finally landed an offer to sign up on the entrepreneurial course backed by Sir Tom Hunter at the business school. She left four years later with first class honours.
Another business venture followed, which failed, then a short spell with an organisation dealing in sexual and emotional issues, followed by a scholarship offer for a place on the MBA course at Stirling university. She met a number of the key Scottish entrepreneurs breaking through at the time, such as Charan Gill and Jim McColl.
An offer to work at the Edinburgh Clinic run by Aspen Healthcare eventually led to her setting up Cosmedicare which operated like a concession until she broke away and set up her own clinic in 2016. Turnover rose threefold in year two and is on track to repeat the same in its third year of business.
It’s now housed in a former Nuffield health centre near Edinburgh Park tram stop and she has big plans to expand from tummy tucks, breast augmentation and eyelid surgery into a more rounded service that includes health assessments, cosmetic dentistry and alternative treatments.
“This is a three-year stop-gap. I want to build my own hospital,” she declares, adding that the plan is under wraps, except to say that she has a plot in mind where permission has been granted.
She says cosmetic surgery is often misunderstood and wrongly maligned. “Clients are usually insecure or embarrassed about something that they don’t feel comfortable about.”
They are about 80% women, she says, but men are looking to reduce their breast fat, pin back their ears or fix a nose broken on the rugby field. She says the women exposing themselves in the nightclub lavatories are usually unhappy about what nature gave them.
“People get the wrong idea about those come to see us. We deal with people who may have experienced botched jobs or suffered injuries which have left them feeling insecure about their appearance, just as much as women wanting bigger boobs for purely aesthetic or cosmetic reasons.
“They are normal people who just want to feel better and more confident. It is not for other people. It’s for themselves.”
Occupation: Founder and owner of Cosmedicare
Education: Left school with no qualifications; Strathclyde Centre for Entrepreneurs (1st Class Hons); Stirling University MBA
Career highlights: Launched tanning salon business aged 16; followed by various temping jobs; PA at transport consultancy IBI Group; administrative roles in healthcare at Sandyford and the Edinburgh Clinic; launched Cosmedicare in 2016
How do you think other people see you?
I think they would find it difficult to place me. I used to be a life and soul of the party type. But I’m actually quite shy.
What have you learned most from your experiences?
Life goes on. But don’t be consumed by fear.
Does Brexit concern you?
People on both sides thought there were plans in place for whatever happened. Theresa May is getting a hard time, but she has brought a lot of it on herself.
What annoys you?
Inequality. Arrogance. People making excuses for not doing things.
Name a favourite place
Anywhere exotic, particularly the Far East. I like to explore other cultures and traditions to expand my own views.
If you could invite three people, past or present, to a meeting who would they be?
My grandmother, who was a big support and inspiration
Oprah Winfrey, who has navigated her way through life with dignity
Mahatma Gandhi, because he led change in a time of adversity and took a different approach