Branson aide takes on top post at SECC

The SECC received a massive boost from the opening of the Hydro. Picture: SNS
The SECC received a massive boost from the opening of the Hydro. Picture: SNS
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FORMER Virgin executive Will Whitehorn is to take over as chairman of the SECC as the exhibition and conference centre steps up its hunt for a new chief executive.

Whitehorn, a non-executive board member of Scottish Exhibition Centre since November 2010, will take up the role on 1 January, replacing the retiring Sir Ian Grant, 70, who has held the post for 11 years.

The SECC is the last major business appointment to be given up by Grant, who has previously chaired the Crown Estate and the Scottish Tourist Board. He has also served on the boards of a number of other organisations such as Scottish & Southern Energy and the Cairngorms Partnership.

His departure was confirmed at the end of last month, when it emerged that SECC chief executive John Sharkey would stand down by Easter amid on-going conflict with Glasgow City Council, the SECC’s majority shareholder. Whitehorn’s first job will be to quickly recruit two new non-executives to replace the roles vacated by himself and Keith Wyness, who quit the board earlier in November. He will then head up the hunt for Sharkey’s replacement.

The changes come hard on the heels of the opening of the SSE Hydro, which hosted its first concert at the end of September. Although beset by construction delays, the 13,000 capacity arena is now expected to deliver profits of £6.2 million as it plays host to more than one million visitors in its first year.

Grant said he was “absolutely delighted” that Whitehorn is taking over, as his experience would prove invaluable.

Born in Edinburgh, Whitehorn joined Virgin Group in 1987, where as group PR manager he became known as Sir Richard Branson’s right-hand man.

He was heavily involved in Virgin Trains, and became founding president of Virgin Galactic – the group’s space travel venture – until retiring from that post in January 2011. Whitehorn is also a non-executive director at Stagecoach, and chairs the Transport Systems Catapult, an innovation centre set up by the Technology Strategy Board. He is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and chairman of London PR agency Speed Communications.

“I am thrilled to be stepping into the position of chairman of the SECC,” he said.

“The company has performed extremely well in recent years, most noticeably with the opening of the SSE Hydro. I am privileged to follow in the footsteps of Sir Ian Grant, whose guidance and leadership has taken the business to where it is today.”

Grant – who stayed on at the SECC to see the Hydro project through the banking crisis and subsequent financial downturn – said he was pleased to have brought the development through to completion.

“You just need to see the acclaim that is being heaped upon the building,” he said. “It is a huge success.”