By Scott Wright

IT has weathered the darkest days of the pandemic. Now, as it celebrates its fortieth year in business, esteemed Glasgow funeral director Anderson Maguire is looking to the future with purpose, as it looks to benefit from the investments it has made in the last year.

The company, which was built a reputation for handling the funerals of Scotland’s great and good, is aiming to expand through acquisition, after spending £1.5 million the last 12 months to equip itself with the infrastructure required to support sustained growth.

Dom Maguire, its colourful chairman and founder, is upbeat about the future of the business. But he admits the pandemic has been a deeply challenging period for the company’s staff, who could often only look on helplessly as bereaved families were unable to attend the funerals of loved ones when Covid restrictions were at their peak.

While we know now that Covid rules were regularly being flouted by officials and politicians in Number 10 Downing Street, Mr Maguire recalled that “people had to witness coffins being taken to a crematorium, [where] nobody [was] allowed to be present, a couple of relatives standing at the gate, and our staff deliberately stopped the hearse so that these people could put their hands against the window.”

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Mr Maguire said: “They were distraught, abiding by the regulations, to find that the same rule did not apply to everyone. I don’t want to be political with that, but that was the reality of the situation.”

He added: “The full implications of it haven’t arrived yet because there will be long-term mental health issues as a result of unresolved grief. Lots of people haven’t been unable to get proper closure on the life of someone they loved, and they are going to suffer the effects of that in the time to come.”

Asked how the company’s staff had endured the crisis, Mr Maguire said colleagues had lent heavily on each other for emotional support, adding that they have access to a counselling service to help them through traumatic times.

“They wouldn’t bottle it up, they would share it with each other,” he said. “And I think having this safety valve, this release, served them well. They also realised as well that we were an important link in the whole chain of what was happening.

"At the end of it all, I think there was a great sense of pride, I suppose, among the staff, that they contributed in the very positive way that they did. Underlying that was a great sense of sorrow for people, from all strata of society, who lost loved ones during the pandemic and were unable to fulfil the normal rites and rituals of saying farewell.”

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With those difficult days now hopefully gone, Mr Maguire is optimistic about Anderson Maguire’s commercial prospects. He highlights its ongoing activity on the acquisition front, which has seen the company acquire two smaller independent companies and locked in talks with a further three.

In some cases, such companies are keen to join Anderson Maguire because they plan to retire or lack family members to hand the baton on to; in others because the bigger firm could help provide the financial muscle needed to invest in facilities, or to comply with new legislation which is being planned for Scotland. This largely centres on facilities for looking after the deceased in funeral homes, health and safety, and pricing.

Mr Maguire said the prevailing market forces affecting smaller firms are “favourable to our group to grow, and we have got the money to build the business forward from here.”

The company has invested a “colossal amount” in its infrastructure, he added, “even during Covid”, in a bid to keep it at the forefront of the industry. It now has what Mr Maguire understands is the biggest care suite of any independent in Scotland, while its fleet of vehicles have been upgraded. It has also introduced a new management software system.

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These days, Mr Maguire does not run Anderson Maguire day-to-day. That task is largely in the hands of a three-strong senior leadership team, each of whom have specific areas of responsibility. However Mr Maguire, who over the years has led the funerals of some of Scotland’s most notable names, remains very much engaged, but admits his directors have become “wise” to his methods.

“They don’t present what the proposals are – they present it to me when it is a fait accompli,” he laughs. “They have learned my idiosyncrasies of tinkering!”

Mr Maguire added: “A couple of them have been in the funeral business for a long time, so they know the lay of the land, and they know what our ultimate ethos is. Every life is precious, and every funeral should be unique.”

While his original mission for Anderson Maguire was to become “everybody’s funeral director” when it started four decades ago, he said it was “hardly secret” it had also become the “go-to” provider for “big showcase funerals” – be it sports people, royalty or high-ranking religious figures.

But Mr Maguire insisted that the firm, which has 41 members of staff, is there for people from all walks of life.

“The thing that matters most is how people are received when they enter one of our funeral homes, how they are looked after, how they are treated,” he said. “The little kindnesses that our staff perform for people go a long, long way to ensuring loyalty, and we have a very high reading of loyalty from families who choose, when the misfortune strikes them, to come back to us again.”

Six Questions

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?
I have travelled extensively in Europe and the USA on business matters. For leisure I love the south of Spain.
When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?
Through family connections I wanted to be a funeral director. Big shiny black Humber cars were a great attraction to me.

What was your biggest break in business?
My biggest “break” 
and most humbling experience was being elected by my peers 
UK wide as the National President 
of our National Association in 1998.
I have also been honoured to have been asked to carry out 
and organise many high- profile public funerals. I would say we have been involved in some of the biggest funerals in Glasgow in recent years.

What was your worst moment in business?
I can’t  think of a worst moment. With all its ups and downs I have enjoyed my career.

Who do you most admire and why?
Dwight D Eisenhower, the former Supreme Allied Commander in the Second World War and then USPresident,  He was from a modest background in a small US town and rose to such prominence.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?
I am reading This Much Is True by Miriam Margolyes. 
My music mix is very eclectic. I’m a great Steely Dan and Moody Blues fan.