Name? Alan McLeish.
QTS Group, comprising QTS Group Ltd, QTS Rail Ltd & QTS Training Ltd.
Near Drumclog, South Lanarkshire.
A range of services including railway civil engineering and maintenance operations. The company's innovations include specialist road/rail machinery for laying tracks, building stations, rail platforms and footbridges. We also provide road rail plant hire, environmental services, non-railway civil engineering, training, vegetation management and on-track drainage.
To whom does it sell?
Our main customers include Network Rail, British Telecoms, ScottishPower Networks, a range of local authorities, The Forestry Commission, BAM Nuttall and Birse Rail.
What is its turnover?
£24 million to March, 2012, with £30m+ forecast to March, 2013.
How many employees? 100+.
When was it formed? 1991.
Why did you take the plunge?
I didn't do well at school and left with no qualifications, but with the teacher's admonishments that I would never amount to anything ringing in my ears.
After a couple of years trying my hand at various low-paid, dead-end jobs, I took some seasonal work in the forestry sector.
I had a young family by then and this motivated me to work hard and learn everything I could.
A manager was impressed by my attitude and the rate at which I worked and put me forward for training.
I then trained and qualified as a tree surgeon and worked as a site manager, then contract manager for a forestry company.
This company was later bought in conjunction with another similar company and the merger resulted in redundancies across middle management and administration.
I decided to take the plunge and set up on my own, despite having little in the way of set-up capital.
QTS started trading with one van, a small team of operatives (including my wee dog) and a small but crucial loan from my mum.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
I borrowed £300 from my mum to buy a chainsaw and built from there.
What was your biggest break?
My first self-employed contract with British Rail.
I had worked on the rail network with EFG and had impressed with both my rate of work, site organisation and the quality of the finished job.
I was approached to put in a tender against my old company and won the work even although QTS had no track record.
What was your worst moment?
QTS had been steadily growing and prospering from 1992 to 2007 and I had been able to provide a good life for my family.
The mainstream construction sector was booming at that time and I was persuaded to diversify into two new divisions, niche civil engineering providing streetscapes for local authorities and associated CCTV and drainage services.
When the recession kicked in and mainstream construction hit rock bottom these divisions suffered huge losses and almost destroyed the whole company.
I had to review the entire business and make some tough decisions, but QTS has come through it and is now a better company.
We have better management systems now, that act as an early warning system, and we have striven to ensure we are more flexible and have the ability to react to cope with rapid expansion or indeed retracting if required.
Early in 2011 we made the decision to focus on our core activities, which I'm glad to say had been unaffected by the recession, and haven't looked back since. I'm definitely older and wiser now, but I have built up a good team and the future looks really bright.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
I enjoy bringing on young talent, which is the lifeblood of any business. More than anything else I like coming up with innovations I think keep us ahead in the rail industry, such as our "Rail Robots" automated repair machinery, which help refurbish tracks in a way that was never possible before.
What do you least enjoy?
I was very much hands on in the early years and I do miss being on site running the projects.
However, I've had to step up a gear and get to grips with running QTS as it is now. I've always been a bit of a perfectionist and it's challenging having to hand over responsibilities to my operational teams and let them get on with it without interfering too much, but I think that's a work in progress that I'm getting better at.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
I see massive opportunities for QTS in the rail industry in both the UK and further afield. I have ambitions to open an office in Australia soon, where we are seeing big changes in the rail industry that require the expertise we provide.
I see that as a possible springboard to breaking into the far-east market, in China, and surprisingly Mongolia.
What are your top priorities?
To maximise the opportunities we've worked so hard to get and to maintain a growing, financially healthy, well-governed company, which can be proud of its employment and environmental credentials and not just its profit margins.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would most help?
QTS relies heavily on investment in technology and training new talent to build our business and stay ahead of the competition. At the moment, we feel we are being hindered in doing that to an extent by "red tape" in the way HMRC and other government bodies regulate some aspects of our business.
I would like to work closely with either government to simplify aspects of the tax regime, such as the Construction Industry Scheme (which covers payments to sub-contractors for construction work).
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?
Regular and detailed management information and continuous review of what, why and how we do things are vital to ensuring the company continues to prosper.
Prior to 2009, like many other owners of small to medium-sized companies, I relied on my bank balance and the year-end accounts to monitor how the business was doing but the recruitment of an in-house accountant (now our financial director) was a crucial turning point in how the growing business was managed.
Looking back I was probably a bit naïve formerly and relied on pricing the jobs correctly and chasing turnover to ensure profits were generated and the business was growing but her analysis of exactly where the capital invested was working hardest for us led to myself and the wider operations management team reviewing the type of jobs, the client base and the size of tenders we should be focusing on.
Business, like life, is a journey and you need to be smart enough to realise you need to keep on developing yourself by listening to other people with expertise in their own disciplines and reviewing every job so mistakes are used for learning to do things better and to avoid repeating them.
How do you relax?
I still train regularly at my local gym and when I'm not working or training, I like nothing better than to relax with our three Samoyed huskies at home on our farm.
We have hectic work and social lives and a weekend chilled out doing nothing is rare, but absolutely the best way to recharge our batteries.