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Amid widespread concern about the outlook for the economy a businessman who weathered the challenges posed by a deep recession reflects on the value of a strategic change made during tough times.
What is your business called?
Kissing With Confidence Ltd.
Where is it based?
Glasgow and London.
What services does it offer?
We have three training programmes: The Rainmaker, The Pitchmaker and The Teammaker.
We deliver business growth by working on selling, pitching and team effectiveness.
To whom does it sell?
Professional services firms, corporates and public sector organisations.
What is its turnover?
How many employees?
When was it formed?
Why did you take the plunge?
My managing director, who is also my wife, and I often reflect that we had both always wanted to start a business. Though I liked working in academia, my last job before starting up, it was too slow-paced. Also, my dad started a hugely successful industrial waste business at the age of 35, the age I was when we started Kissing With Confidence, so I think it was in my bones to do this.
In my early and late 20s I loved after dinner speaking and debating. I remember speaking at a Trades House Dinner and afterwards a friend in marketing jokingly asked to be my agent. That got me thinking there might be a job in it.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
I trained as an architect before starting in academia in the department of Land Economics at the University of the West of Scotland, going on to become Director of Industrial Placement.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
My redundancy payment from the university.
What was your biggest break?
Apart from meeting my MD, Sharon McLellan, meeting Kylie Roberts from Deloitte at a conference in Barcelona. We paid what was then an eye-watering sum to attend and have been working with Deloitte ever since. Much of the work has been in London, but Dublin and Copenhagen are regular locations as well as many other major European centres.
What was your worst moment?
The financial crash immediately wiped half our work out and the phone did not ring for six months. We came out of our city centre offices, never replaced two staff who left and let our non exec go.
But every cloud has a silver lining and that’s when we decided to start delivering business development skills to professionals. I reckoned, once they recovered from their shock, our clients would be more interested in selling than pitching and presenting skills, so that bad break was the start of our Rainmaker journey.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
I love every single day. Working on proposals and negotiating with high end businesses is a real buzz: you are never more alive than when your chips are in the middle and it could go either way.
But being out front is still the best thing. My first gig of 2018 was a Rainmaker in Zurich, followed by a three day strategic facilitation in London about a £200 million a year business opportunity with 16 big hitters in the room and coaching in the Edinburgh financial sector on how to deliver a devastating keynote without any slides.
Then there is the big audience presentation: the keynote. Give me a flipchart, a pen, three hours and 200 souls in a room and I am a happy man. It’s better than golf.
What are your top priorities?
To leave a legacy business, one that does not stop when I stop. Right now we are looking at how to do that sustainably, taking the soul of our business and the wonderful souls who are in it, along with us every step of the way.
I love watching people in our business flourish as we grow. It has been quite a ride.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?
We do most of our work outside Scotland and there are two things I would say about that: we should be working with more businesses in Scotland and, while I think London is the best city on the planet, the economy needs to be less skewed to the south east.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?
Specialise: I tell everyone to find something they like to do and are good at, then get better than everyone else at it. Then you never work a day in your life. I’ll be doing the cruise ships when I am in my dotage, speaking on Robert Burns.
How do you relax?
I have a long-time interest in political oratory, so might be reading or writing about Trump or May or Boris.
As a farmer’s son on a Saturday mornings I get up early, put the Mokka coffee pot on and think about what frittata to make for brunch. The big 55 inch telly will go on in the afternoon and I’ll create dinner while watching sport, anything with a ball.
Sunday Sharon and I might go to Largs for a walk then fish and chips at Nardini’s.