Name: John McLeish.

Age: 51.

What is your business called?


Where is it based?

Glasgow & London.

What does it produce, what service does it offer?

Equator is a digital transformation agency. In essence, we help brands transform and take on tomorrow, representing visually how they operate technically. We help traditional businesses to embrace the digital age, and with more modern businesses we help them leverage further benefits for their business.

To whom does it sell?

In the early days we had a particular strength in travel and leisure given its maturity at the time, however over the years we have developed a significant footing in many other sectors including finance, utilities, and healthcare where we have developed long-standing relationships with many national and international brands.

What is its turnover?

Circa £18 million for 2020/21.

How many employees?

155 full time employees, with the large majority based in Glasgow. We also use a number of approved partners and have a pool of experts overseas who we can draw on to support our growth ambitions.

When was it formed?

The company began trading in 1999.

Why did you take the plunge?

I had been working for the same advertising and marketing agency for a number of years, having progressed through the business to become Operations Director. I had a lot of responsibility and became, in essence, the quasi-MD. However, I decided I wanted to be the master of my own destiny and decided it was the right time to make the move from the comfort and security of being an employee to ultimately becoming my own boss. As a bonus at the time, a number of clients decided to follow me which helped kickstart the business. During this period, Jamie Jefferson joined as Chief Creative Officer and Roy Woodward, a big name in advertising, joined as chairman. The company achieving profit in its first year helped to cement the decision. Shortly after, and as part of its first acquisition, Equator purchased a business which saw Garry Hamilton join as Chief Growth Officer. Myself, Jamie and Garry continue to work together with the same energy and passion that we have always had and look forward to continued growth.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I didn’t. The company was self-funded from the outset and remains the same all these years on.

What was your biggest break?

Our biggest break came from an attitude that no challenge was too great. We have always punched well above our weight and been fortunate enough to attract and retain many blue chip clients. Our strategy has always been to target large national and international brands. We have never limited ourselves to our local market and have experienced success throughout the UK and beyond. Ninety per cent of our current client base are not based in Scotland.

What was your worst moment?

The company has experienced lots of challenges along the way. It would be strange if we didn’t! Perhaps my worst moment was in the early years when we lost a couple of large clients, through no fault of our own. We fell foul of corporate acquisitions which led me to make some tough decisions, including making redundancies. This is something I never wanted to do nor want to do again, however it was necessary at the time. The company quickly navigated through the uncertain waters and quickly got back to a position of strength. There have of course been many challenges, something I do relish and enjoy solving. The financial crash, Brexit and most recently, the pandemic are enough to keep the most successful of businesses on their toes.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I like being extremely busy. I love the daily challenge it brings, including navigating difficult issues and finding appropriate solutions. I love the diversity involved and the learning curve which is always required! I get a real buzz out of seeing my team progress and learn new things. Many of them have been with the company for a long time and it is rewarding to see the journey they have come on.

What is your biggest bugbear?

Indecision. There is no wrong decision, just more opportunity to learn.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

Our strategy has always been based on three to five year windows as our crystal ball doesn’t work beyond that, especially in a sector that is changing by the day. Our goal is to double our revenues and triple our EBITDA (earnings before tax depreciation and amortisation) during this period. We have invested heavily in the business over the last few years and we are now in a position to capitalise on our next growth phase as we extend our offering into new focus areas and new markets. To help support this growth phase we will be continuing to recruit, adding both breadth and depth to our team.

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

Currently there is not much incentive for running your own business in Scotland. What I would love to see is Scotland becoming an exciting environment where people want to start businesses and are given the appropriate encouragement to do so. In my opinion, those in power need to look beyond the end of their nose and help create an environment that is designed to succeed.

I would love to see Government working with businesses to support home grown talent, helping to retain and keep them in Scotland to help businesses grow and flourish, as well as enabling them to create their own enterprises. Currently too much great talent has to go further afield to find innovative and rewarding careers.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

There’s two things I’ve learned along the way. Firstly, treat people how you would like to be treated yourself, and secondly, look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.

How do you relax?

I love spending time with my family. I enjoy sailing, particularly on the West Coast of Scotland, although I have been known to race across the Atlantic, which was a fantastic experience and something I will definitely do again. I also love to ski in winter and enjoy nothing more than spending time on the slopes. Thankfully my kids also enjoy both!