In a Victorian villa in Glasgow in 1996, a group of friends came up with the idea for a business that would help companies get the best of of their staff, and help people make the most of every ounce of potential.

“There was no grand plan, we just wanted to do good work and make a difference,” explains Fiona MacNeill. “We put £1,500  each in a metaphorical jam jar, and we got started.”

Fast-forward 23 years, and Fiona MacNeill Associates is now a leading people development consultancy, working with CEOs and frontline staff in a range of organisations, including Royal Mail, The Princes Trust, John Lewis and Rolls-Royce.

The company, which design and develops bespoke creative learning and leadership programmes, has also worked with universities, the NHS and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service.

Over that time the business and its people have changed and grown, but at the core remain MacNeill and her fellow founding director (and husband) David Gillespie. FMA has recently moved into CoVault’s Tradeston base in Glasgow.

The flexible workspace company, which has 19 locations across Scotland, offers month-to-month contracts for micro and small businesses.

“This has been a fantastic move for us,” explains MacNeill. “It’s great to be part of a business community. Having a landlord whose values are in sync with ours was very important too, and that’s what we have here.”

MacNeill, who is from Greenock, studied mural and stained glass design at Glasgow School of Art before working on a range of community art projects with Inverclyde Council.

“I got involved with train-the-trainer courses and loved it – the whole idea behind the psychology of learning appealed to me and in particular, the ‘iceberg’ model: what is underneath what’s happening? What do we not see?” she says.

Since that first conversation in Glasgow, FMA has gone from strength to strength, offering a range of creative and innovative services.

“It could be anything from creating a one-to-one thinking space, to designing a company leadership programme for 3,000 people – and in the last 23 years, we have done both of those and everything in between,” says MacNeill.

“But at the root of it, we remain a group of close friends working together, who care about each other and the people we work with. Our values remain very important to us as we continue to work with a diverse range of clients.”

MacNeill’s vision for the next stage of the business is clear.

“The aims is to continue to grow the work that we do, to  learn and develop as we do that, and to work with and help more people,” she says.

“The challenge is not to get sucked into the negative narrative about the economy, which is part of the existing business climate.

“I’m the world’s biggest perpetual optimist, so I always look forward to what’s next. We have been through some tough  times, but I love the work I do, and that has never changed.”

She adds: “The sheer joy of helping people is why I still do it. Most people just want a space in  which they will be listened to – where their ideas will be heard.