IN this week’s SME Focus a property entrepreneur says he has no regrets about swapping corporate life in the sunshine of California for the challenges involved in running a small business in the colder climes of Glasgow.


Neil Livingstone.



What is your business called?

Douglas Dickson Property Management.

Where is it based?

Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow in the Park area of the West End; we have been at the same address since we were founded.

What services does it offer?

Douglas Dickson is a family-owned letting agents and property management company

To whom does it sell?

Douglas Dickson began by managing its own family property portfolio and has expanded to managing properties and portfolios for private landlords.

What is its turnover?

£1 million.

How many employees?

Six office staff.

When was it formed?

We have been in business for over 45 years. Our name, Douglas Dickson, was actually, many years ago, a hosiery company, taken over by my great uncle. My grandfather started in knitwear and my father and uncle expanded into property investment. We have come a long way since.

Why did you take the plunge?

I am Glasgow born and bred, and since qualifying as a chartered accountant in London I have been fortunate enough to work all over the world for large companies and international start-ups, but I always knew where I wanted to be and where I wanted to direct all the experience I gained and that was into my family’s business here in Scotland. When you grow up surrounded by a family business it always feel like home. So it may have been a plunge but it was actually a homecoming.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

My wife, young son and I were living in California where I was general manager and finance director of an international electronics and software company. I ran offices in London, Hong Kong and California.

It was a fantastic experience working and living in Silicon valley. But being close to family and friends was very important to my wife and I so we also planned to come back for that very reason. We made the most of our time there: from enjoying the 300 days of sun to taking in the sites of the mountains of Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park. I have never regretted moving back to the UK, as we took full advantage of our time there. Since I have been back in Glasgow, life has been equally enjoyable and rewarding.

What was your biggest break?

I think my big break was when I moved back to Glasgow in early 2009. Arriving back and encountering a depressed market can be disheartening if you don’t have the ability to recognise the opportunities. But if you have business experience and a degree of insight you can form a long term plan and that is key in successful property investment.

What was your worst moment?

In 2010 at the height of the credit crunch, we managed to find a good new tenant to take a property with a significant rental value which had become vacant unexpectedly. Weeks before the deal was due to conclude, during the cold winter that year, there was a burst water pipe on the top floor of the building that caused extensive flooding. However, by managing the new tenant, and working with an excellent contractor, we managed to dry out the building and repair all the damage. We saved the deal, and the tenant was able to open their new restaurant. There were a number of moments over many months when the deal could have collapsed.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I enjoy managing and overseeing the day-to-day activities, being involved with all aspects of driving the company forward.

At its heart, we are a people business. Our first property administrator retired recently after 34 years with us.

What are your ambitions for the business?

We are constantly looking to grow our letting agency, through encouraging individual private landlords to join us, by managing larger portfolios and through acquisitions of other agencies.

Recently we have started a buy-to-let service, which we have had great success with. We have been helping people who would like to become landlords in Glasgow.

What are your top priorities?

My family, my health and the success of my business.

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

The UK and Scottish governments are both trying to make life harder for landlords. The recent restrictions of loan interest tax relief to higher rate tax payers and the additional three per cent tax on property purchases by buy to let investors will deter new landlords.

In my view, however, this is aimed at the London market and, whilst it is not welcome, I think it will have limited impact on Glasgow investors. Property prices in Glasgow are still affordable and offer strong returns to landlords compared to what you can earn from savings in a bank or building society.

I believe that the Government in both Westminster and Scotland should try and minimise the regulations on small business. When they bring in new laws they should be compelled to remove an old one. I think the biggest help the Government could provide would be to incentivise small companies to invest in their businesses such as supporting them when taking on new staff and providing training to existing ones.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Always listen: listen to you employees, your clients, to the market. Listening is an underrated commodity and is one of the greatest teachers; that and knowing communication can always be improved.

How do you relax?

I am a Munro bagger and an avid skiier/snowboarder. Having access to our greatest mountains, with and without snow, are some of the reasons I love Scotland.