Highlights of a tough year in Scottish business - Nick Freer

I first wrote for this column in 2010 - a piece about corporation reputation in the wake of negative publicity faced by investment bank Goldman Sachs, who had been described as a “great vampire squid” by a journalist at Rolling Stone magazine.

Nick Freer is the founding director of strategic corporate communications agency the Freer Consultancy
Nick Freer is the founding director of strategic corporate communications agency the Freer Consultancy

For the last few years, I have been a more regular columnist, writing or curating a weekly comment piece for the Saturday edition of the paper. Generally, it is a discipline and routine I greatly enjoy - with the exception of the times at which I’m bashing out some words far too close to deadline.

If there is a regular theme that runs through my opinion pieces, I guess it would be around entrepreneurship. Being based in Edinburgh, living and working here, and mixing with a lot of entrepreneurs, that feeds into a lot of what I write.

It’s the curating bit, as opposed to my own scribblings, that I get the bigger kick out of though - very probably in common with The Scotsman’s readership! Curated content, in terms of how we assimilate news on the internet, is trending ever upwards, and you can see why given the sheer amount of content on the web.

Generally, when someone is writing a piece for me, they ask for my view on what they should write about, or how it should be framed. On the whole, I will recommend that there is at least some Scotland context to the thing - I mean, the article is going to be published in The Scotsman! Having said that, when it’s a captain of industry type pulling a business comment together, typically they don’t need too much hand holding.

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Looking back at 2021, there were a few standout columns.

In April, Andy MacMillan, CEO of UserTesting, the first Silicon Valley tech group to set up a European headquarters in Edinburgh, wrote about empathy in business - how it isn’t just about being nice, rather it should be a stone-cold business strategy. As MacMillan put it: “For businesses, empathy seems to have become not just a value but a paradigm governing nearly every aspect of the operation, from marketing strategy to employee engagement to corporate citizenship.”

MacMillan recently guided the company through an initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange that valued UserTesting at over $2 billion. As his surname suggests, he has Scottish heritage and completed a MBA in Corporate Strategy and Management at the University of Edinburgh between 2002 and 2003.

In May, Munich-based energy sector consultant David Scrimgeour MBE, formerly a Scottish Government investment representative in Germany wrote about the shadow formed by Brexit: “For British companies and economic development agencies the world of trade and investment with Continental Europe has changed dramatically since the beginning of 2021.”

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Also back in May, Varun Nair, someone who is always in my top list of Edinburgh-based entrepreneurs, wrote about his journey from co-founding a startup here that was acquired by Facebook in 2013: “Transforming an idea into a successful venture is hard. It takes tremendous energy, constant iteration from failure, and good timing.”

As I’ve run out of word count, tune back in next Saturday for more entrepreneurial tales - until then, Happy New Year!

Nick Freer is the founding director of strategic corporate communications agency the Freer Consultancy

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