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Scottish business: The highs and lows of 2012

AS another tumultuous year on the corporate and broader economic front draws to a close, we take a moment to reflect on the Scottish business leaders who made positive headlines in 2012, as well as those who found themselves with some tough challenges to address.

GOOD YEAR

Martin Gilbert

It was the year Aberdeen Asset Management finally convinced the market that the strategy piloted by the wily Mr Gilbert over the past decade, since the trauma of split-capital trusts, was delivering.

The shares, which ended 2011 at 212p, were touching new highs this month above 340p, after a year that saw a 15% rise in profits, a 28% rise in the dividend, and a doubling of its cash, prompting expectations of an extra payout to shareholders next year.

The only turbulence for Mr Gilbert, chairman of FirstGroup, was the rail franchise debacle which stung him into a rare political outburst.

David Nish

Like Aberdeen, Standard Life shares began the year just above 200p and are ending it close to 340p, a seven-year high, after a year in which the chief executive has delivered numbers that seem to vindicate his strategy.

Its inflows and assets both climbed strongly, beating City expectations, as Mr Nish underlined how Standard's investment in readiness for the twin opportunities of adviser charging and auto-enrolment may have taken time, but it is paying off.

Its wealth division has made a grab for market share, helped by continuing strong in-house investment performance, and it has put the 2010 money market fund embarrassment (and FSA fine) behind it.

Ian Curle

The man who heads whisky giant Edrington fittingly took the chair of the Scotch Whisky Association as he unveiled a storming year for the trust-owned drinks group.

Edrington is planning a multimillion-pound investment in Scotland over the next five years after racking up 57% profits growth and 25% debt reduction since 2008.

Star performer The Macallan grew profit 40% last year on the back of booming sales in its key US and Asian markets. Last month Mr Curle reported continuing momentum, with a 21% hike in pre-tax profits in the first half of the current year.

Angus MacSween

The man who created Iomart as a telecoms wannabe in the tech boom proved in 2012 that its newer incarnation, in cloud computing and online hosting, was a winner.

The shares have climbed by more than 50% since the start of 2012 on continuing rapid growth, based on a big head-start in the now fashionable sector.

The Glasgow business hiked sales by nearly 30% and pre-tax profit by 73% in the first half of this year, and Mr MacSween said Iomart was still on the acquisition trail. In 2012 it paid £6.7m for its biggest acquisition yet and £2.9m for two other promising rivals.

BAD YEAR

David Thorburn

In his first full year as chief executive at the Clydesdale, Mr Thorburn found himself presiding over a statutory pre-tax loss of £614m, the announcement of 1400 job losses, and a review of small business mis-selling – while seeing a pay cut from £1.2m to £510,000. He also gave up his position on the executive committee of parent NAB to concentrate on a radical restructuring, as the Australian bank tightened its grip on the Clydesdale by replacing the chairman and most of the non-executive board.

Last month NAB grimly confirmed it had been trying to offload the Clydesdale in 2010 and 2011 without success.

Tim O'Toole

The clouds appeared to be lifting for the American chief executive of FirstGroup when he rallied shareholders at the company's annual meeting in Aberdeen this summer. The share price, which had halved from the 408p when Mr O'Toole took over two years ago, included nothing for the group's rail business, he said.

The next few weeks saw the shares jump 25% as FirstGroup's award of the West Coast franchise went from rumour to fact, then crash by 30% as it turned to fiction when the franchise fiasco erupted.

Last month Mr O'Toole had to admit the dividend was frozen, pending light at the end of the rail tunnel.

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