The chairman of Ross County, who has emerged as the chief opponent of the proposed 12-12-18 plan, is also the owner of Global Energy Group, which has a turnover of around £350 million and employs 4,400 staff – making MacGregor the largest private employer in the Highlands. The personal company he has periodically kept includes Fergus McCann, whom he spent time with on the day he bought Celtic, and Richard Branson, who currently mentors his son Donald. In addition to his clutch of entrepreneurial awards, MacGregor was even granted a royal audience to receive an OBE from the Queen two months ago in recognition of his efforts for the community. It was an occasion which both changed his perception of a few things and reaffirmed his world view.
"I went there sceptical, but I came away a convert," MacGregor told the Sunday Herald. "I am not one for awards, but it was a recognition for the family, for some of the things I do that are unseen. It was a privilege to accept it on behalf of a lot of people. I remember standing beforehand with about eight people from the military, a general, a vice-admiral and four people who had come home from Afghanistan the day before. I was making small conversation with them and I said 'my generation doesn't understand wars'. It is all about money, technology and systems. I asked them 'what actually wins wars nowadays?'. To a man they said leadership and people. It is exactly the same in business and the same in football."
Such people principles apply perfectly to the remarkable progress of Ross County – for whom MacGregor was once a low-key presence in the second XI – from Highland League minnows to European hopefuls. Despite occasional blips such as relegation from the first division to the second division some seven years back, or the departure of Derek Adams following the club's 2010 Scottish Cup final appearance, the graph has only been on an upward trajectory.
The Dingwall club has certainly become a second religion for MacGregor, a member of Rosskeen Free Church in Alness, who shares his faith with the club's director of football George Adams, and his son, and the club's manager, Derek. Having got the bug for football when Rangers came to town back in 1966 for a 2-0 Scottish Cup win, MacGregor preaches the benefits of the perfect alignment of personnel in all parts of the company, and the aggregation of marginal gains into a greater sum in the long run.
That all-inclusive model for success also relies on the input of the club's supporters, which helps to explain why a club from a town of just 6,000 people can sell more season tickets than Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Dingwall's neighbouring city, in fact, provides 80% of County's hospitality intake. MacGregor explained: "You get spikes, highs and lows, but because of [the] alignment [we have] we have pretty much had an upward curve. We came into the league 18 years ago with grass banks and 200 people coming in, but at the peak we had 13 community officers working from Shetland through to Oban. We were building a fan base and building football into our community. We then built the first academy in Scotland, copying it from what Terry Butcher and George Burley had at Ipswich Town, and saw the likes of Gary Mackay-Steven and Don Cowie come through."
The adventure has continued this season, with Ross County stumping up the cash to follow yesterday's vanquished opponents Celtic to Marbella in January, a trip that included nine players who were due to leave the club, and a few summer signings who were persuaded to arrive early. "The thing about Ross County is that we want a player to come in the front door and go out the front door," MacGregor added.
Where it all ends is anyone's guess. Some have hypothesised that Adams junior, and perhaps senior, could be persuaded to jump ship to Aberdeen this summer, but MacGregor feels all parts of the club have room to grow. Europa League qualification would certainly testify to that. "Derek is very happy, he makes his own decisions, gets his autonomy and there are no brooms in the cupboard," he said. "I think we have a bit of that journey to go on and I am sure Derek does as well."
Having benefited from the Scottish system, it is little wonder MacGregor is protective about wholesale changes to our game. While he agrees with many of the proposals currently on the table, he feels selling season tickets for what could be perceived as a 22-game campaign (before the unknowns which follow a mid-term split) would be dangerous in the extreme. Likewise, he is opposed to another oft-mentioned alteration – that of accelerating Rangers back to the top. He explained: "One Ross County negative would be the fact that for 18 years we have tried to get into the league, we got there and now they are changing it. Another is the fact we had to spend a couple of million pounds on stadium criteria.
"But I can probably live with that, because clubs like Falkirk and Dunfermline had to do the same. I would prefer to keep it as a regular top 12, with a play-off. It has been a really competitive league and you know what you are buying when you sell a season ticket.
"I haven't heard any talk of accelerating Rangers. But if you punish them and say they have to work their way back in, I think it would be morally wrong to parachute them back the other way round."
Improving Scottish football isn't just about the number of teams in the top league, in any case. MacGregor started out in retail and knows the customer is always right. An Under-16 season ticket at County costs £25, but it was £22-a-ticket against Celtic yesterday. MacGregor claims they are the cheapest in the SPL, but knows it is still overpriced. "My audience is mum, dad, two kids and grandad," he said. "That is what football was: we have just turned the clock back."
Some of those lessons were learned in his close contact with McCann, whose wife was MacGregor's lawyer. "I was buying a business in Glasgow and I was sharing a room with Fergus the day he bought Celtic," he said. "He was a travel agent, a funny wee guy under that bonnet. But what we learned from Celtic was that you can go in the front door, go up to the restaurant and be sitting beside the manager or the players or the chairman. There is a sense of belonging and that is very powerful."
Contextual targeting label: