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Dynamic entrepreneurs battle for major accolade

SCOTLAND's entrepreneurial dynamism will be highlighted at a dinner in Glasgow on Thursday when the Entrepreneurial Exchange Awards are presented in front of around 600 guests.

FAST LANE: Alexander Dennis's chief executive Colin Robertson, 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year, above. From left, Tom Cross, Stuart McLean and Jim Walker will contest this year's award. Main picture: Steve Cox
FAST LANE: Alexander Dennis's chief executive Colin Robertson, 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year, above. From left, Tom Cross, Stuart McLean and Jim Walker will contest this year's award. Main picture: Steve Cox

Made this year in association with professional services firm Deloitte and media partner The Herald, the awards are Scotland's longest-standing annual awards for growth-oriented entrepreneurs.

The Entrepreneurial Exchange is an organisation for ambitious entrepreneurs with more than 400 members representing around £23 billion of turnover.

The awards fall into two categories, Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year and Entrepreneur of the Year. Our preview of the short-listed candidates in each category concludes with the three nominees for Entrepreneur of the Year.

Name: Tom Cross.

Company: Parkmead Group.

Location: Aberdeen.

Started: 2011.

Employees: 15.

Financial turnover: £3 million.

One of Scotland's best-known oil and gas entrepreneurs, Tom Cross cut his teeth in the industry as a petroleum engineer and economist with companies like Thomson North Sea and Louisiana Land and Exploration.

After starting Dana Petroleum with an initial investment of around £200,000, Mr Cross helped the company establish the foundations for growth by scouring the former Soviet Union for licences in the early 1990s. Aided by his astute deal-making, he went on to grow the business into one of Scotland's biggest listed companies. The company's mix of North Sea and overseas interests was attractive enough to persuade Korean National Oil Company to pay $3bn (£1.87bn) for the business in 2010.

Mr Cross also pursued an entrepreneurial approach to the corporate social responsibility agenda at Dana. This included drawing on the firm's drilling expertise to secure permanent water sources for the indigenous population of a desert near where it was exploring.

Since becoming executive chairman of Parkmead Group last year, Mr Cross has made a quick start to his attempt to build another big North Sea business by completing four acquisitions.

Deloitte verdict: "Tom's record with Dana is outstanding, and exemplifies an individual who is not easily deterred and understands how to get the best out of people and business opportunities. Tom is able to set a clear vision for each of his business interests and the momentum he is already generating at the Parkmead Group demonstrates his team and the market's advocacy of his leadership and strategy."

Name: Stuart McLean.

Company: Zonal.

Location: Edinburgh.

Started: 1979.

Employees: 240.

Financial turnover: £36m.

Stuart McLean has spent his entire working life developing his family business, Zonal, which was established to fill a gap in the market for a till-based operating system for the hospitality market.

With a customer base that includes the Wetherspoons and Belhaven pubs businesses and the Butlins leisure operation, Zonal has built a market share of around 60% for its Electronic Point of Sale systems.

The company conducts research and development at its Edinburgh base and manufactures its products in Livingston. It has also used acquisitions to expand its offering to include functions like online ordering, stock replenishment and self-billing between wholesalers and suppliers.

After achieving steady growth amid often challenging conditions in the UK, Zonal has made inroads into the giant US market. The company has a presence in the state of Florida, where there are more than 60,000 restaurants.

Mr McLean has sanctioned the hefty investment required to build a new head office in Edinburgh to accommodate growth in a clear sign of his confidence in Zonal's prospects.

Deloitte verdict: "Stuart has built Zonal in a careful and measured way – the results of which are really starting to take effect in terms of its UK and US footprint. Zonal has captured the market almost by stealth, keeping the customer and their interests as the core focus. As an individual he conveys real, yet grounded, ambition for the company and has no intention of letting up."

Name: Jim Walker.

Company: Argent Energy.

Location: Motherwell.

Started: 2001.

Employees: 63.

Financial turnover: £47m.

Jim Walker rose to prominence as a spokesman for farmers during the BSE crisis that rocked the community in 1996. In a subsequent four-year spell as the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland he helped members through the foot-and-mouth crisis in 2001.

After joining Argent Group as vice-chairman in 2003, Mr Walker drew on his farming experience to help the company accelerate the development of its biodiesel production business. This involved taking waste outputs from animal rendering plants.

Appointed operations director in 2005, Mr Walker then played a key role in helping the firm respond successfully to the challenges posed by the financial crisis in 2008 and the ensuing recession and oil price volatility.

Since participating in a management buyout of the company in 2009. Mr Walker has led the company during a period in which it has more than tripled revenues and increased profitability by 400%.

Deloitte verdict: "Jim is a charismatic individual who has brought to Argent his business skills and political connections, derived from his farming experience. He has carried his team with him and is demonstrating, in a sustained way, a commercial model that makes money in the arena of renewable fuels.

"Jim navigated the business through a difficult period of changeable oil prices and maintained his faith in the long-term potential of the business which now appears to be vindicated, given the continuing growth it now enjoys."

l Colin Robertson, chief executive of Alexander Dennis, was judged to be Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011 in recognition of the success he has helped the Falkirk-based bus builder enjoy amid challenging conditions since he took charge in 2007.

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