IN so many ways, Sir Ian Wood provides a template for the ideal Scottish businessman.
As chairman of Wood Group, he has transformed a family trawler repair business into a global oil and gas services company. The company has thrived from its Aberdeen base in one of the most competitive sectors in the world of business. Sir Ian modestly attributes his achievements to having been in the right place at the right time. Oil exploration did begin in the North Sea in the late 1960s, but it requires a special something to make the most of the opportunities black gold presented. He is not averse to pointing out that he has worked seven days a week and expects his staff to go the extra mile. He is stepping down only because he promised his family he would do so before he was 70. He reaches that milestone tomorrow, although he will not bow out until later this year.
Yet he sees relinquishing the helm of the business as an opportunity to devote more time to the Wood Family Trust. Established five years ago because he felt the time had come to put something back, his initial goal was to invest £50m in community and enterprise initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa and projects for young people in the UK.
Philanthropy can be controversial, as has been demonstrated by the reaction to Sir Ian's proposal to give £50 million to a project to revamp Union Terrace Gardens in the centre of Aberdeen. This has divided public opinion in the city and beyond. The future of the scheme will be decided by councillors on August 22, with the newly-elected Labour administration having pledged to scrap it. A hint of the hard-headedness required to build up and maintain a multi-billion-pound business was evident in Sir Ian's reaction to the new council's stance: "it is no skin off my nose".
Sir Ian leaves a void which will be for other focused entrepreneurs to fill. It begs the question: how can Scotland best benefit not just from the wealth of its most successful entrepreneurs but also from their business expertise?
Sir Ian's retirement should create an opportunity to tap into his acumen and experience for this country's gain. The potential to learn from the can-do attitude of our top businessmen and women should not be taken lightly, least of all by a Scottish Government with a focus on efficiency yet running a country in the grip of a recession and mired in a potentially prolonged period of austerity.
First Minister Alex Salmond has demonstrated a commitment to tap into such expertise. Sir Ian says he will not talk about politics until November, when he finally leaves the Wood Group, but he has said that the SNP must provide greater clarity on independence. The Nationalists promise to do so before the referendum on independence. Regardless of Sir Ian's position on the constitution, he has created an opportunity to utilise his expertise. It would be in Scotland's interest to seize it.
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