What I've been working on this month...

January was a busy month for business news flowing from the north of Scotland, with rocket manufacturer Orbex among the first out of the blocks with the appointment of a new senior management team as the company prepares for completion of its Sutherland Spaceport.

Phillip Chambers has taken over from interim chief executive Martin Coates and joins Moray-headquartered Orbex with more than two decades of experience in building technology platforms for some of Europe’s most successful start-ups. Among these are classified ad site Gumtree, software developer Peakon – now owned by Workday – and German website operator Qype, which was acquired by Yelp in 2012.

The Herald: Phillip Chambers (left) and Miguel Belló Mora have joined Orbex at a critical time Phillip Chambers (left) and Miguel Belló Mora have joined Orbex at a critical time (Image: Orbex)

Miguel Belló Mora has been appointed executive chairman having most recently served as director general of the Spanish Space Agency. He has also previously served as commissioner for the Aerospace Strategic Project for Economic Recovery and Transformation (PERTE), and is the founder and former chief executive of the DEIMOS space group.

Elgin-based Gordon & MacPhail has also named a new chief executive as the historic family-owned whisky business transitions away from third-party bottling to focus on its own distilleries and malts. Phillip White will join Gordon & MacPhail in early April, replacing long-standing managing director Ewen Mackintosh who declared his intention to retire in May of last year.

Two months after Mr Mackintosh revealed his retirement plans, Gordon & MacPhail announced that from 2024 it will no longer fill casks with spirit from distilleries it does not own and will instead concentrate on its Benromach and Cairn brands. For more than 100 years the company has been an independent bottler of whiskies from casks filled with new-make spirit from other distillers.

On the legal front Aberdein Considine, which has been expanding its reach across the country from its headquarters in Aberdeen, has strengthened its wealth management operation with the appointment of Ross Leckridge as a chartered financial planner for the newly-created Edinburgh division of its AC Wealth operation. Mr Leckridge joined the firm from Johnston Carmichael Wealth, where he was head of proposition and a chartered financial planner. 

The Herald: Ross Leckridge has joined Aberdein Considine from Johnston Carmichael Wealth Ross Leckridge has joined Aberdein Considine from Johnston Carmichael Wealth (Image: Aberdein Considine)

Engineering services giant Wood Group announced intentions to sell its 51% stake in Aberdeen-based Ethos Energy, which was set up in 2014 in conjunction with Siemens of Germany.

Ethos is an independent services provider specialising in rotating equipment for the power, oil and gas, and industrial sectors. It has 4,000 staff globally with offices in Aberdeen, the US, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.

The announcement came as Wood issued a trading update in which it said that annual earnings in the latest year will be slightly ahead of expectations as the Aberdeen-headquartered group continues to win new business and forge ahead with its three-year turnaround plan. Chief executive Ken Gilmartin told The Herald that Wood continues to "update and refresh" its capital allocation policy with a view to rewarding shareholders, though he did not commit to any specific timeframe.

The Herald: Wood Group chief executive Ken GilmartinWood Group chief executive Ken Gilmartin (Image: Wood)

“I think for now, as a company and where we have come from, [having] sustainable free cash flow has always been front and centre on the back of an organic growth strategy that we all believe in and we are starting to deliver on," he said. "We’ve got capital allocation [and are] looking at how we possibly return some money to our investors as we go through that.”

Meanwhile, Trojan Energy has secured £26 million in backing from investment groups BGF and the Scottish National Investment Bank to create a more robust infrastructure network to support the shift to electric vehicles with the continued rollout of its “clutter free” charging technology.

The company, which employs 68 people in Aberdeen, has developed a “flat and flush” on-street system that takes up minimal pedestrian pavement space when in use, and none when it is not in use. The technology is currently installed in some parts of England but has yet to be deployed in Scotland.