IN this week's SME Focus we hear how the founders of a thriving Scottish technology firm who turned retrenchment by the US corporation they worked for to their advantage.


Ash Marron, chief executive, Donald Maciver, founder.


Ash 51, Donald 50

What is your business called?

Gael Limited

Where is it based?

East Kilbride

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We help organisations demonstrate compliance with a plethora of international standards to regulators, assessment bodies and customers. We have been producing software application to help manage quality, safety and risk management for the last 20 years and are now achieving considerable success in aviation, healthcare and the manufacturing supply chain in both domestic and international markets.

During November, the firm signed a significant new contract with the United Arab Emirates-based General Civil Aviation Authority, to regulate the safety performance of almost 800 operators and 600 registered aircraft operating in the UAE airspace.

To whom does it sell?

We sell our products globally. Our risk management application Gael Risk is doing really well in oil and gas, and our Q-Pulse product for quality management is expanding within the life science sectors based on success in healthcare.

Our recently released i-Pad offerings are attracting interest from organisations having a need to engage with remote, site or mobile workforces.

What is its turnover?


How many employees?

100 at present, although the current plan is to add a further 10 staff during the first half of 2012, in both commercial and technical roles.

When was it formed?


Why did you take the plunge?

The idea had been cooking for a while when we were both still in Unisys, but didn't have the courage to jump. Once the decision was made to close the company's plant in Livingston, it was the logical thing to do. We had been frustrated by the way in which the focus of managing quality had been hijacked by bureaucracy and our product idea was to eliminate the needless paper chase in managing formal quality standards and shift the focus to what could be improved within an organisation.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

We both spent our formative years in Unisys – who manufactured equipment to read cheques and debit your bank account – and became mates when working there. Although we worked in different departments, we are both fundamentally engineers who believed in doing the right things right. Unisys closed with the loss of 700 jobs, 300 of them in Design and Development in December, 1991.

Between Unisys and joining Gael, Ash had a career spent managing traditional manufacturing companies, Bermo Scotland and Livingston Precision Engineering as well as being one of the initial business practitioners that helped establish the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

Initially, we provided consultancy services with some software tools to differentiate ourselves from other consultants. It was obvious that there was more value and scalability in software than in services, so by 1995 we became a full-time software house that provided consulted services aligned to products we produced. Consequently, we have never taken external investment or funding which allows us every freedom to take the correct long-term decisions for Gael and its people without ever being in a situation where a third party is looking for a quick return.

What was your biggest break?

Getting employed by Unisys in Livingston was a great break for both of us. They believed and invested in talent and a hard work ethic and provided great opportunities that we were not shy in taking.

The youth and the energy of the team at Unisys achieved unbelievable results – we just forgot to tell the Americans and they closed us down! How Scottish. However, it made the decision to go for it and establish Gael easy.

What was your worst moment?

A day when the bank that was helping to fund the build of our then new offices back in 1997, introduced, at the last minute, what we felt were crazy obligations on the contractors which would have added 12% to costs and made the project unviable. Unfortunately the contractors were already on site so it became a day of intense brinkmanship that ultimately ended in their demands being dropped. We won the day, however the experience left a bad taste and a couple of years later they were no longer our bankers. Lesson learned – go with your instinct and stick with your principles and never, ever be fazed by a suit and tie, irrespective of who is wearing it.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Every day's a school day – we learn something new every day and that encourages us and our management team to raise the bar as the months roll by and that has contributed hugely to our success.

What do you least enjoy?

Witnessing the impact the recession is having. We have seen a number of good customers go under and whilst that has limited impact on us, you know it is often devastating for people that you have developed great relationships with over the years.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We see tremendous potential for Gael – the demand for compliance and regulatory oversight is growing across the world and we want to fully capitalise on our achievements to date and the market opportunity. To develop a brand that is not only managing quality, but recognised for it.

We have a hugely talented team and we want them to experience the diverse organisations and geographies that we support

What are your top priorities?

Hiring and retaining great staff; to be in a position to understand customer needs and always ensuring that we provide value and benefit to them from their investment; to ensure that as a management team we continue to take the correct decisions for the benefit of Gael and its customers.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would most help?

Continue to develop applicable university courses for all roles in a business. Napier University recently announced a degree course for sales which is a great start, but education needs aligned with industry needs.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Indecision is worse than taking the wrong decision so ensure even the most difficult decisions are not delayed.

How do you relax?

Ash is still active at sport with regular five-a-side games and a family that keeps him occupied. I don't relax.