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Scottish Business Network

Author: Fraser Allen from Fraser Allen Communications

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As a journalist and member of the Scottish Business Network, I was keen to start a fortnightly podcast interviewing the big personalities of the Scottish business world. Dip in - you'll hear from some amazing people!
54 Episodes
As a boy growing up in Edinburgh, Chris Tolley liked nothing more than a quiet evening in reading Mozart sheet music. Music was his destiny and, after university, he landed a job with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, rapidly progressing from photocopying sheet music to taking the lead on extraordinary events such as the Concert for Diana. Then, after a spell at Radio Two running am ambitious opera competition with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, he moved into writing music for TV and film. You may not know his name, but you will almost certainly have heard his music. A thoughtful, articulate and funny man, Chris discusses his family, life during lockdown and the power of audio branding – as well as a giving us a sneak preview of a track from his forthcoming album.
Nadeem Sarwar, the founder of Scotland-based digital pharmacy Phlo, explains the extraordinary growth of his business, accelerated further by the impact of the pandemic crisis. Nadeem explains why this will continue to be a significant growth area, and how Phlo is seeking to build on it with a crowdfunding campaign launched on 12 October 2020 (lasting for 30 days). This is is the first episode in a new mini-series, in which we take ten minutes out to look at a business with a great future – the ones to watch.
Growing up in the Peak District and then the Sidlaw Hills, Simon Milne developed a passion for nature, conservation and the great outdoors at an early age. Discouraged from a career in conservation by his school, he embraced a long and rewarding career in the Royal Marines. However, after being invalided out, he returned to his first love and is now Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. This fascinating interview with Fraser Allen was recorded on Zoom in front a large global audience at one of the Scottish Business Network’s autumn series events.
Is there still a place for clans in modern Scotland? Madam Pauline Hunter of Hunterston certainly believes so. She is Chief of Clan Hunter, and argues that clans have a key role to play in drawing the Scottish diaspora back to the old country, and helping to create business opportunities. And for her part, she’s highly active in pulling together Hunter clan members from all over the world to celebrate their shared culture – and historic home of Hunterston Castle. Interviewed by Fraser Allen on 17 September 2020.
In 1999, Poonam Malik arrived in Scotland from India with two suitcases, £35 and a British Council scholarship to Glasgow University. 21 years on, she is an extraordinarily well connected scientist, academic, businesswoman, investor, consultant and mentor – and a passionate advocate for social enterprise and encouraging diversity everywhere from business start-ups to the boardroom. And all this carried with a grounded sense of humility – and a great sense of humour. The word ‘inspirational’ is over-used, but it truly applies to Poonam. Enjoy hearing her story in this special 50th episode of the series. Interviewed by Fraser Allen on 8 September 2020.
Ian M Houston is a dual US/UK citizen, with a strong Scottish heritage, who knows the political world of Washington DC inside out. He has wandered the corridors of power, advising and lobbying, with a mission to create opportunities for the disadvantaged. In this extended episode, Ian talks us through his journey from academia to enterprise, the challenges for diplomats under current US foreign policy, and why he’s a big fan of Scotland’s women’s football team. A published poet, he also reads from his new collection. Earlier this year, Ian was appointed as Scottish Business Network Ambassador to Washington DC. Interviewed by Fraser Allen on 5 August 2020.
A long career in corporate banking gave Graham McWilliam a taste for branching out on his own. And after a couple of successful entrepreneurial adventures, followed by further spells at RBS and Clydesdale, he took over the reins of a very unusual business. Glencraft is an Aberdeen-based social enterprise founded in 1843 to provide dignity to the disadvantaged through work. The company had specialised in making mattresses for the oil industry but when Graham took over, the price of oil had plummeted, orders had dried up and the business was in trouble. Graham, however, saw an opportunity. Glencraft had a Royal Warrant and a wealth of expertise – and Graham has since transformed the business into a serious player in the international luxury mattress market. Interviewed by Fraser Allen on 3 August 2020.
When the pandemic crisis arrived, lots of people talked about 'pivoting' or starting a new business but Hassan Peymani went further, springing into action with a new venture. Concerned at the problems he encountered getting hold of face masks for his at-risk father and pregnant wife, Edinburgh-based Hass launched his own business to supply high-quality masks at a fair price without disrupting PPE supplies to the health service and with a percentage of sales going to NHS-related charities. It’s great story – as is his background as a self-confessed obsessive who previously immersed himself in the worlds of poker and TV before becoming established as a successful tech entrepreneur. In recent years, Hass and his wife have also had to overcome massive personal challenges which makes it all the more pleasing to see him embrace this new venture with his typical enthusiasm, single-mindedness and good humour. Interviewed by Fraser Allen on 22 July 2020.
What a transformation we've seen in 2020 as organisations embrace the benefits of remote working. And as business leaders recalibrate to seek new opportunities post COVID-19, the broader issue of flexible working is likely to be high on many people's agenda. Step forward then Lisa Gallagher and Nikki Slowey, founders of Flexibility Works, which is part-funded by the Scottish Government and the Tom Hunter Foundation. Nikki and Lisa are helping organisations in Scotland to identify the benefits of flexible working and how to maximise value for both employers and employees. Interviewed recorded by Fraser Allen on Friday 10 July 2020.
After growing up in Glasgow, Mark Bamforth spent spells working in the oil and whisky industries before embarking on an outstanding career as a biotech entrepreneur in the United States, where he has been based for many years. Mark talks through his career, and also shares his thoughts on Scottish innovation, the impact of COVID-19 and the way business needs to respond to the BlackLivesMatter protests. This interview by Fraser Allen was recorded on Zoom for a global audience of 90 business people at the online Scottish Business Network gathering on the 23rd June 2020. If you enjoy this episode, why not explore the archive? We have a wealth of fascinating interviews with big personalities from the world of Scottish business – you can subscribe to the Scottish Business Network podcast on iTunes, Spotify and numerous other providers.
After an idyllic early childhood in New Zealand, Sara Roberts endured severe bullying when she returned to the UK, leading her to leave school at the age of just 14. That experience inspired her to succeed on her own terms, launch several businesses and thrive on her own self-reliance and resilience. Sara is now the entrepreneur behind Healthy Nibbles, providing healthy vending machines and snack boxes for the workplace and public spaces. I interviewed her on 16 June 2020.
Mel Young is one of Scotland’s greatest social entrepreneurs, responsible for establishing the Big Issue and founding the Homeless World Cup. And as well has having a hugely positive impact on the lives of the disadvantaged in Scotland, he has demonstrated considerable business acumen and leadership skills. Mel talks us through his career, the ways in which he would like to see charities and businesses learning from each other, and his new venture to discover a better way forward for society. This interview was recorded on Zoom in front of a global audience of Scottish business people as part of the online Scottish Business Network gathering in May 2020.
Despite only turning 30 this year, Edinburgh-based Mollie Hughes has climbed to the summit of Mount Everest not one but twice. And in January this year, she became the youngest woman in the world to ski solo from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole, No wonder she's now making such a big impact as a motivational speaker. Interviewed by Fraser Allen on 18 May 2020. [For enquiries to book Mollie as a speaker, visit]
Hailing from an Italian/Scottish family in Ayrshire, Michael Mancini could have got involved in the family ice cream business but, from an early age, he had a passion for woodworking and furniture design. His company, 1718, now creates outstanding furniture for clients across the world. Here he tells the story of his career to date. Recorded pre-lockdown, in Glasgow, February 2020.
Fraser Allen interviews Alasdair McKinnon (CEO of the Scottish Investment Trust), Ellen Wong (Principal Officer at the US Consulate in Edinburgh and Adam Hunter (Chief Commercial Officer of the online pharmaceutical delivery service PHLO). All three share their experiences of managing their way through the COVID-19 crisis and the lessons they have learned to date.
Kicking off a new format for the podcast series, Fraser Allen interviews three personalities from the Scottish business world about the way the coronavirus crisis is affecting them, how they are managing the situation and what they have learnt from the experience so far. It's a truly international episode. We speak to Tom Simpson from the China-British Business Council in Beijing; Becky Woodhouse, the CEO of Pure Spa and Beauty, who is battling to manage her business while stranded in Thailand; and Scottish singer Ainsley Hamill, who also brings some wonderful music to this episode.
As well as many other endurance feats, Mark Beaumont has cycled around the globe twice, breaking the world record both times – a record he still holds today. Yet few realise that Mark is as comfortable in a business suit as he is in cycling Lycra. His experience in defining a venture, developing the finance, building the team and then successfully marketing the concept has led to a portfolio of activity supporting Scotland’s start-up ecosystem. Interviewed by Fraser Allen.
There are two luxuries that John Newlands won't do without: dry cleaning and a good lunch. It therefore seemed only appropriate to convene over the latter to discuss his wonderfully colourful career in banking, commodities and investments. From an Edinburgh upbringing to a career in the City of London, via Brazil and Cuba (including a bold dinner-table challenge to the late Fidel Castro over the calibre of his locally distilled 'whisky'), John's story is a wonderful listen. Interviewed by Fraser Allen at Silk & Grain, City of London.
Brian Duffy describes his Glasgow childhood as a tour of the city’s housing schemes – which is quite a stretch from his current role as CEO of the luxury brand Watches of Switzerland. The story of how he got there, which includes launching the Playtex Wonderbra in the UK, working with Ralph Lauren and serving as a director with his beloved Celtic FC, is highly entertaining and full of unassuming but hard-earned wisdom. Podcast interview and and production by Fraser Allen of, in association with the Scottish Business Network. All rights reserved.
The tables are turned in this episode as podcast host Fraser Allen is himself interviewed – by Sue Stockdale, host of the Access To Inspiration podcast. Fraser discusses the sale of his agency, White Light Media, his career to date (via selling magazines in the playground and narrowly avoiding jail in Turkey), plus observations on the world of marketing.
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