Comment: The best, bullish and write-offs of 2013

Terry Murden. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Terry Murden. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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SCOTLAND on Sunday business editor Terry Murden looks back on who made a difference, and who messed up over the last 12 months

THE fires that have raged through the economy are finally being put out and the green shoots are appearing. In what may be regarded as the last year of the downturn, some thrived and will be the ones to watch when the recovery takes hold. Here are some reflections on who made a difference. And who messed up.

Most impressive business leader: Gareth Williams

The chief executive of Skyscanner, the flight comparison website, which attracted investment from Silicon Valley investor Sequoia Capital. Its chairman Sir Michael Moritz described the Edinburgh-based firm as one of the best technology companies to come out of Europe. It is now worth 
£500 million and is doubling its workforce to 500.

Most unappreciated chief executive: Stephen Hester

Royal Bank of Scotland lurched from one crisis to the next, but barely any of it was Hester’s fault. He did what was asked of him, mainly shrink the bank’s assets and clean up the balance sheet. Then he got the sack. He should avoid football management.

Poisoned chalice award: Ross McEwan

Became chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland on 1 October. Nothing more to add.

Most overrated speech: Bill Clinton

The former US president’s address at the Scottish Business Awards was too long and rambling, leaving many wondering what he was trying to say.

Most heart-stopping moment: Grangemouth closure threat

Ineos boss Jim Ratcliffe won his showdown with the workforce and avoided a fuel crisis.

Best corporate adviser: David McQuorqudale

The head of retail at KPMG Scotland handled the sales of Blacks Leisure, Dreams and JJB, among others. If anyone knows the retail sector any better, step forward.

Best start-ups adviser: Jim Duffy

He blends modesty with a huge dollop of enthusiasm for his Entrepreneurial Spark initiative which now operates in three cities and is backed by Sir Tom Hunter, Ann Gloag and Lord Haughey. Bigger things are expected.

Best investor: Scottish Equity Partners

Its portfolio is close to 60 companies, including Anesco – named the UK’s fastest growing private company. It has a knack for picking winners.

Best party: Innis & Gunn

The beer company’s tenth anniversary bash at the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms, was a big hit with revellers. Chief executive Dougal Sharp bet that the 600 guests would fail to get through 8,000 pints. He lost.

Best PR operator: Spreng & Co

Callum Spreng, formerly head of comms at SMG, has built his Glasgow-based business around a handful of seasoned pros and is plugged in to what works and what is a waste of time. Big Partnership led the field among the larger agencies, but the sole operators are making their presence felt, including Debbie Byers, Lesley Clark and Nick Freer. Too many PRs curiously prefer invisibility, slapping themselves on the back, or spending clients’ time and money on frivolities.

One to watch: Joy Lewis

The chief executive at Adopt an Intern last week reached her goal of putting 500 graduates into paid internships. She is nominated for a prize at the Scottish Business Awards in May.

Best recovery: Aegon UK

Plenty of folk have written off the life and pensions provider and it was in a pretty parlous state when Adrian Grace took over in April 2011. He has taken out a lot of costs and jobs, but the business, once known as Scottish Equitable, is on a firmer footing, even if many people still think it sells fridges and cookers.

Broken heart award: Cupid

The internet dating firm was forced to investigate claims that staff posed as customers. It found the allegations to be “without substance”. But the shares fell 70 per cent. Co-founder Bill Dobbie later decided to step down.

The Michelle Mone award for best self-publicists: BrewDog

No-one can ever say the boys from Fraserburgh missed an opportunity to promote their beers, though sometimes they went a little over the top in their attempts at being the mavericks of the business world. Full marks, though, for trying do things differently. The firm is expanding beyond Scotland and its equity for Punks III was yesterday declared fully subscribed with £4.25m raised. This makes it the UK’s most successful ever crowdfunding project.

Twitter: @TerryMurden1