The chief executive of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Marshall Dallas, wrote a piece for this column last week about the venue’s need to double down on winning contracts outside Europe in the wake of Brexit.
As part of a UK delegation that travelled to China last month, Dallas recounted some of the very different rules of engagement when it comes to doing business in Asia’s most populous nation. Fast forward a week, and I found myself discussing how we do business in Scotland with a global enterprise agency from Europe that is strengthening its team and proposition in Edinburgh.
Admittedly, the subject matter was not something I had given a great deal of thought to, so I spoke to a few people more in the know. Sandy Kennedy, Entrepreneurial Scotland’s chief executive, says: “One of the striking advantages Scotland has is the ability to connect quickly with people to address problems, generate ideas, share learning and be inspired by others. Scotland has great, vibrant cities and inspiring rural communities, and we believe it’s all about finding and supporting individuals with that special entrepreneurial mindset - wherever they are based.”
Kennedy’s remarks made me think of a Dornie-based entrepreneur, Marianne Rugard Jarvstrat. She and her husband Niklas are the co-founders of what is best described as an edtech or e-learning company called Mossytop Dreamharvest (named after the mountain on the Sleat peninsula of Skye they look out to from their Dornie base) who have developed an online creative writing platform, MageQuill, that connects young writers with a trusted network of mentors and is about to be rolled out by thousands of universities in India.
Mossytop illustrates that you can build successful ventures outside Scotland’s main cities. I think there’s also a case for the differing business ecosystems of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee - sometimes subtle, sometimes more marked - meaning that, for a company or investor coming into Scotland, you may have to take a somewhat varied approach to how you do business in each.
Russell Dalgleish of the Scottish Business Network says: “Scots take great delight in arranging introductions and setting up meetings for visitors and this shows the ease of doing business here.” Dalgleish talks about a recent visit by Dubai trade body DMCC who were “amazed” at how straightforward it was to arrange meetings with CivTech at CodeBase, the University of Edinburgh, IoD Scotland and the Scottish Parliament – all in one afternoon.
Russell continues: “Decisions are made relatively quickly and our reputation for doing what we say we will do is recognised across the globe. We should not underestimate this reputation for trust.” Fellow Scottish Business Network founder Christine Esson says she thinks the Scottish approach to doing business is “tell me about you, tell me what you do and let’s see how I can help or let’s see who I know who can help.”
This resonates with me, as I found this to be true when I moved to Edinburgh after a decade-long stint in London.
David Scrimgeour, who runs the British-German Business Network, opines that “for me, the key is good preparation and enough time in the programme for people to really get talking to each other.” Scrimgeour is well-versed on the topic, having prepped both Scottish delegations visiting Munich and Bavarian delegations visiting Scotland.
The World Bank produces an annual report ranking the world’s easiest countries to do business, and, rather than global giants like China or the US, smaller economies like Singapore, New Zealand and Sweden regularly come out on top. That should be encouraging for Scotland, knowing that if we can be well organised and “business friendly” we can punch above our weight when it comes to the international order.
Nick Freer is a founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners.