Name: Robert Schiller.
What is your business called? PassiM Developments Ltd.
Where is it based? Moniaive, Dumfries and Galloway.
What does it produce, what services does it offer? A purchase, planning and project management service for residential and commercial property acquisitions and renewable energy projects. Recent Scottish projects include the Ashgrove Equestrian Centre at Coulson, Dalkeith, where we installed two wind turbines while three twin turbine schemes are in development in Dumfries and Galloway. We have also recently signed a partnership agreement with Xzeres, an American turbine manufacturer, to supply units for one- and two-turbine arrays. Together we supply turbines to clients in rural and urban areas, free of charge, giving them free electricity and a ground rent of up to £1000 per year for the 20-year life of the project. Both firms derive revenue from selling excess electricity to the National Grid and the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) for renewable energy providers.
To whom does it sell? Landowners, farmers, property businesses and Venture Capital funds.
What is its turnover? £300,000.
How many employees? Twenty sub-contracted.
When was it formed? 2007.
Why did you take the plunge? I had worked for a long time as a project manager, mainly on construction projects, in the UK and abroad. Among the companies I worked for was Cluttons, the chartered surveyors, representing overseas developers in London. Although I was working for other people, I always had things on the side to earn a bit of extra money. My entrepreneurial spirit came from my father, Robert F Bluck, who was one of Glasgow's largest property developers in the 1960s. At its peak, his company was responsible for construction projects in seven different countries, including Fleming House and Kimberley House in Glasgow, and he owned the Lorne Hotel on Sauchiehall Street. At the end of 1975, he was so disillusioned with the UK business environment that he upped sticks and moved, firstly to the Bahamas and then to the US, where he still works.
What were you doing before you took the plunge? I was a bit of a tearaway at school and my parents took increasingly Draconian measures to try to bring me into line, including sending me to the Admiral Farragut Naval Academy in St Petersburg, Florida, to learn a bit of discipline. None of them worked and I left without any qualifications and worked as a building labourer for a couple of years before getting my act together. In 1988 I returned to the UK and managed to get enough A-levels to get me into the Harper Adams Agricultural College (now University) in Shropshire, where I studied marketing and business management with a particular focus on the agricultural economy. In 2007 I was working on an EC project in Lancashire aimed at regenerating and attracting inward investment into the rural economy. I spotted an opportunity to service areas outwith the pilot scheme zone and it was then that PassiM was born.
How did you raise the start-up funding? All of the start-up funding came from savings and from the proceeds of my first big contract.
What was your biggest break? I was hired to manage the acquisition, planning and development of an industrial park in Cheshire. The scale of the project was bigger than anything I was used to, and there must have been others who had more experience than me, but the developer, a local farmer, decided to place his trust in me. In the end it was a great success, it was delivered on time and on budget and it made a lot of money for myself and the farmer.
What was your worst moment? About a year and a half into the life of the business, I lost around £30,000 after a wind-farm developer I had done work for couldn't pay his bills.
What do you most enjoy about running the business? I love doing the work, meeting people, identifying projects, negotiating terms and then putting it all into practice. A lot of what I do involves working outdoors, attending site visits and planning inspections and the like, and that's a great bonus. I'd hate to be in a nine-to-five job where I was chained to a desk all day.
What do you least enjoy? Paperwork, it drives me nuts. I realise that it's an important part of any business but I have never enjoyed administration in any form.
What is your biggest bugbear? People who don't deliver on what they promise. My business relies on sub-contractors and so it's important everyone does their bit. If there's a weak link then the whole project can grind to a halt.
What are your ambitions for the firm? At the moment most of my work is in the UK. I would like to be able to take on more contracts abroad. The business is still focused mainly on commercial and residential property but I'd like to expand the renewables side because I believe it will play an important role in the country in the long-term.
What are your top priorities? To double profitability year-on-year. To expand into new territories. To apply the principles of building project in other fields, including renewables. To build a permanent team of staff. To continue enjoying myself.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help? We need government that promotes new business and entrepreneurship properly. Ministers talk a good game about encouraging banks to lend to start-ups, cutting red tape and producing a skilled workforce but we've had the same problems for years and nothing seems to change. Politicians think it's enough for them to rebrand the same old enterprise and regeneration agencies. My experience is that they don't work.
Part of the role of government should be to help change attitudes to business in the same way they do with health or safety messages. Business works better in the United States because they have a different mindset. If an American sees something he likes - a car or a boat - he thinks of ways he can make enough money to get it. Here, we think of reasons why we'll never be able to afford it and we blame someone else.
What is the most valuable lesson that you learned? Not to rely on other people because, at the end of the day, whether you succeed or not is down to you. The benefit of being in business, of course, is that the harder you work the greater the benefit to yourself, which is not always the case when you work for an employer.
How do you relax? Being with my children and friends, preferably in a warm climate.