Business interview: Marie Macklin, Klin Group

Marie Macklin has been involved in construction since she was a child. Picture: Robert Perry
Marie Macklin has been involved in construction since she was a child. Picture: Robert Perry
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MARIE Macklin doesn’t have anything against Scotland’s biggest urban centres – in fact, she names Glasgow as her favourite city in the world.

She does, however, argue convincingly on behalf of the country’s smaller towns, many of which have been scarred by shop closures and disrepair.

Such is the case in Kilmarnock, home to Macklin’s Klin Group and numerous examples of both the problems she describes and their potential solutions.

Klin’s headquarters illustrates the latter. The previously abandoned listed buildings that were once home to locomotive builder Andrew Barclay Sons & Co have been transformed into offices, apartments and a modern heritage centre – complete with Drake 2086, an engine built by Barclay in the early 1940s for the war effort.

A three-minute walk towards the town centre brings another success story into view: the Opera House on John Finnie Street, which lay derelict for 12 years after it was partially destroyed by fire. Today, the listed façade fronts modern offices for more than 300 council employees.

But with other properties further along the street in need of similar treatment, regeneration remains a work in progress. Despite the challenges, Macklin says smaller centres like Kilmarnock could still thrive.

“It doesn’t have to be Glasgow or Edinburgh that creates a new economy for Scotland,” she argues. “Your towns are important as well. For the next five years, we want to concentrate on the larger towns in Scotland. For too long, Scottish towns have been forgotten.”

Klin is a collection of development and property investment companies originally set up by Macklin’s father, John Dick, as a construction business in 1988. Owned by Macklin since 2003, Klin now specialises in the regeneration of brownfield sites.

Born and raised in Kilmarnock, Macklin has frequented construction sites since the age of three thanks to her father, a bricklayer by trade who worked his way up into the management of construction companies before setting up on his own.

After Kilmarnock Academy, Macklin began her career training in accountancy before moving into banking. By the mid-1990s she was employed in debt factoring and company rescue by Royal Bank of Scotland, but also worked in her spare time at the family business.

It was during this period that Klin became one of the first private sector investors in the regeneration of the Tollcross area of Glasgow.

“We saw opportunities there through the 90s during my father’s regime,” Macklin recalls. “I was still working at the bank but also helping out at weekends – I sold my first house there.”

The company was growing at a rapid clip, and by 1999 Macklin had decided to leave the bank and join Klin full-time as finance director. She and husband Drew – a quantity surveyor and Klin’s commercial director – bought out the entire family shareholding four years later, after her father fell ill.

At the time, there had been an offer from a national builder to take over the operation, but Macklin had other ideas. The original construction business was axed to put the focus on redevelopment of disused eyesores that she seems to feel morally obliged to fix.

“It is unfair for communities to sit there with buildings like that,” she says. “Why should they have to?”

Never willing to “sit back and do nothing”, Macklin was at the front of the 20,000-strong march in July 2009 aimed at overturning Diageo’s decision to close down its Johnnie Walker bottling plant in Kilmarnock.

Those efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, leaving behind an abandoned 23-acre site that Macklin now hopes to turn into Klin’s biggest-yet project in the town.

She refers to it simply as “Halo”, a moniker that becomes self-evident with just one look at drawings from architects at Keppie Design. The huge domed facility with its glowing ring of light is striking, and looks like the sort of complex to be found in a rather more exotic location than East Ayrshire.

Macklin admits the project is ambitious, drawing as it does from far larger and more expensive developments in places such as Dubai and China.

“It is going for gold rather than going for bronze, and why not?” she asks. “For me, Kilmarnock has to be local, national and international, just like Diageo is.”

Providing facilities for education, retail, community sports and cultural events, Halo at the moment looks set to cost about £45 million. Having already held extensive community consultations – and with more still to come – Macklin expects to apply for planning permission by the end of the year, with construction to start in 2014.

There have been some pitfalls in Macklin’s involvement with the Diageo site – earlier this summer she was accused of ulterior motives in a bid to take control of Kilmarnock FC.

In a series of clashes with Rugby Park chairman Michael Johnston in June, Macklin was said to be planning to demolish the park, reducing the club to the role of a tenant at the new facility on the Johnnie Walker site. As a result, the club would pay annual rent of a “significant six-figure sum”.

Macklin firmly denied those accusations at the time. Asked about it now, she merely points out that she is the club’s fourth-largest shareholder and “will always be a fan of Kilmarnock FC”.

Macklin’s interest in football can also be traced back to her father, who took his oldest daughter and her siblings to see the departure of Ally MacLeod’s 1978 World Cup team from Prestwick Airport. She says: “People laugh now at Ally MacLeod and his team, but he had us all believing in an aspiration that we could win the World Cup. That is what it is all about – raising aspirations.”

60 second CV

Born: 1965

Education: Kilmarnock Academy

First job: Saturday girl in a Glasgow shoe shop

Ambition while at school: To be a solicitor, or a politician

Car: Porsche

Kindle or book? “I am old-fashioned, I still prefer books”

Can’t live without: My mobile phone

Favourite place: Glasgow, Edinburgh and New York

What makes you angry? Incompetence, and laziness

Best thing about your job: Meeting people