Obituary: John Richard Harkins, business adviser

John Harkins: Modest adviser who helped grow hundreds of Edinburgh firms
John Harkins: Modest adviser who helped grow hundreds of Edinburgh firms
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Born: 24 February, 1954, in Edinburgh. Died: 20 July, 2014, in Edinburgh, aged 60

John Harkins made a significant contribution to the business community in the capital through his work as a high-growth adviser with Business Gateway, supporting hundreds of people with their business ideas and helping them to achieve their ambitions.

After graduating in mechanical engineering from Napier University, John initially worked for Ferranti Defence Systems. As a production engineer, he worked on a variety of projects, including a Science and Engineering Research Council programme to evaluate computer integrated manufacturing systems with Messerschmitt Bolkow Blohm in Germany.

John’s abilities were recognised early on and he was rapidly promoted to management, becoming chief production engineer in 1984. In 1990 he left Ferranti to take up a position as production manager with Hunter Timber, before going on to become the managing director of Caledonian Industries, where he successfully led new growth within the business.

While he was working at Caledonian Industries, John returned to Napier University to study part time for a BA in business economics, graduating in 1997. Subsequently, he went into consultancy with QA Software Services, where he supported business improvement and Y2K projects, and worked in conjunction with PWC as the interim managing director of a business undergoing restructuring.

After a period of time in self-employment as an e-commerce consultant, John joined the Business Gateway team at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce in 2002. He very quickly established himself within the team, where he enjoyed giving advice and support to growing companies and making connections to enable their business growth. John had several opportunities for promotion but chose to continue advising; the contact with the companies and his ability to offer professional and practical advice being what he really loved.

John built up a strong business network in Edinburgh, including private, public and academic organisations. He was well respected within the business community and used his network to benefit those firms with which he worked.

Although a private and quiet individual, he had a strong professional presence, which became apparent in meetings, where he could easily demonstrate his knowledge or get his point across, making everyone present realise they were in the presence of someone who knew what he was talking about, and he did so with great credibility.

John was an absolutely integral part of the Business Gateway team and he developed a strong working relationship with his colleague John Hughes. Together, Harkins and Hughes, or “the two Johns” as they became known, established the Edinburgh Business Growth Club which helps hundreds of businesses each year, and have been a well-known part of the business support network in Edinburgh and Lothian for over ten years.

Together with other colleagues, John moved from Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce to the City of Edinburgh Council when the Business Gateway service transferred to the council. His professionalism and dedication to colleagues and clients marked him out as an outstanding adviser and individual.

Susan Harkins, manager of Business Gateway Edinburgh, paid tribute to him, saying: “As a business colleague, John will be greatly missed. He was held in high regard by all the team and although he was a private individual he always had time for a catch-up when he was in the office. John will be sadly missed by everyone he worked with through Business Gateway and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.”

Graeme Birse, the director of the Edinburgh Institute at Napier University, worked beside John at the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and remembered him as “a very unassuming and humble man – but possessed of great ability, a love of his job and a genuine personal interest in his clients, which went well above and beyond that which they might reasonably expect. For that reason, his clients regarded him with great respect and affection.

“Moreover, unlike many people in senior roles in business, John never boasted about his ability or achievements, he simply got on with the job and served his clients, the Chamber of Commerce and the wider business community.

“His contribution to prosperity, employment and economic development in Scotland was immense and his family should take comfort from the fact that he was held in such high esteem.”

The people whom John met and helped over the years “could always be sure of a big, kindly smile from a gentleman who fought hard to navigate those companies and people with whom he worked through difficulties to bring them success”, and to many John’s “knowledge of the Edinburgh business community was unrivalled, and he was the business adviser of Edinburgh”.

John is remembered as a devoted husband, father and grandfather, and as a widely respected member of the business community in Edinburgh. The huge number of messages received from colleagues past and present and people whom he had helped over the years pay testament to the high regard in which he was held. Our thoughts and sympathies are with John’s family and friends at this time, and he will be greatly missed.