Champion of Scottish industry;
Born: July 16, 1914; Died: July 19, 2012.
William Robertson, who has died aged 98, was for more than 20 years a driving force at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI). He turned the SCDI into a dynamic and expertly- managed organisation which championed Scottish industry and attracted much inward investment.
When Dr Robertson joined in 1956 the office had two executives; when he retired in 1979 there was a staff of more than 50 with offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and London.
His adventurous personality led SCDI to promote many enterprising and pioneering economic projects in Scotland. His enthusiastic encouragement for Silicon Glen was typical of Dr Robertson's hands-on policy and practical foresight.
Speaking at his funeral in Edinburgh the Rev Brian Hilsley said: "Willie dedicated his life . . . to building a better future for his native Scotland."
William Shepherd Robertson was born in Stirling and attended Allan Glen's School. In 1932 he read electrical engineering at Glasgow University graduating with a first- class honours degree. Dr Robertson witnessed a Nazi rally in Dresden but returned in 1938 to be granted a Caird scholarship researching the hydro-electricity resources in Scotland.
On the outbreak of war he was seconded to the RAF and rose to the rank of wing commander. He was principally working on the development of radar – which was to play such a vital part in the eventual victory.
In 1956 Dr. Robertson was asked by the distinguished banker Lord Bilsland to become the senior executive of the newly-formed SCDI. His stewardship there was far-reaching.
He pioneered the expansion of industrial estates giving them a strong social identity. As early as 1960 he travelled – notably to America and Russia – to open new markets for Scottish industry.
But Dr Robertson was keen to further the traditional industries in Scotland. He encouraged expansion at the car factory at Linwood and the Invergordon aluminium plant, the modernisation of coal fields around Motherwell and the construction of oil rigs for the North Sea. During his years in situ Dr Robertson opened an office in New York which had direct beneficial results. Many US technology giants opened plants in Scotland.
In the 1980s Scotland's electronics sector contributed one-seventh of the country's gross domestic product and employed 45,000 workers. Dr Robertson's early championing of technology demonstrated his shrewd business mind: at one stage it was producing approximately 30% of Europe's PCs.
These initiatives, in turn, led to many Scottish universities, particularly Strathclyde University, including courses concentrating on biotechnology. His commercial legacy at the SCDI includes the Highlands & Islands Development Board, the Scottish Tourist Board and the Scottish Development Agency.
These are remarkable achievements and demonstrate his personal dedication and commitment to improving and modernising the Scottish economy. His imaginative commercial foresight brought incalculable long-term benefits to Scotland.
Dr Robertson was a keen supporter of the church and had been an elder of Wardie parish church in Edinburgh since 1955. Throughout his career he was an enthusiastic patron of the Scottish Christian Industrial Order which promoted better relations within industry. In the 1980s he wrote the history of the Wardie church to celebrate its centenary. It was done with "characteristic skill and a twinkle in the eye".
He remained a resounding champion of Scottish business and industry. He was blessed with much acumen, courtesy and cunning as well as a quiet but dignified sense of humour. Significantly he is remembered at the SCDI as "a charismatic and inspiring leader".
Biddy, his wife of more than 60 years, predeceased him. He is survived by their two sons.
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