Stepping aside from IoD chair

So, after four years, it is time for me to step aside and let someone else take over as chairman of the Institute of Directors in Aberdeen. It has been a real pleasure and privilege to chair such a vibrant branch, which has around 280 business leaders in the Aberdeen.

During the course of the four years I have had the chance to meet many of the people who have shaped the North-east economy in recent years.

oil platform

Among them have been:

  • Sir Ian Wood and Allister Langlands, the people behind the development of an Aberdeen family firm into the Wood Group, a $5.2 billion worldwide energy services group.
  • Sir Moir Lockhead, Chief Executive of FirstGroup, which, from its Aberdeen base, has become a £6 billion international transport group, with around half its business in the USA.
  • Tom Cross who founded Dana Petroleum in 1996. Headquartered in Aberdeen, in 2008 it had grown to a market value of £860 million. Rumours abound of an impending Korean takeover. It would be sad to see control move away from the city, but that is what business life is about.
  • John Clark, who built up the John Clark Motor Group from a single BMW dealership in Aberdeen, to become one of Scotland’s top three motor groups, still based in Aberdeen.
  • Bob Keiller, the Chief Executive who bough PSN from Halliburton and built it from its Aberdeen base to 8,500 people in 20 countries.
  • Leo Koot who grew TAQA Bratani, the Aberdeen-based subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, from seven people to 800 people in a year.

We have also made a conscious effort to have a role over the big issues and opportunities for the local economy.

On a positive note, it was during my tenure as chairman that we had the surprise announcement of Donald Trump’s proposal to build the “world’s best links course” at Menie Park, just north of Aberdeen.

I remain convinced that this will be a massive boost to the local economy and – while ‘The Donald’s’ style may ruffle North-east feathers – it is a real contrast to the rather slow, plodding progress that has characterised so many developments in this area. We could possibly learn something!

Trump International Golf Links Scotland is now under construction, which is more than can be said for the long-overdue Aberdeen by-pass.

Back in 2006 we were still being told that the road would be open to traffic in 2011. The new SNP Government broke the bad news that it would be put back to 2012.

That date looks decidedly optimistic as it would mean building 30 miles of near-motorway-standard road in 30 months.

Every day’s delay in its delivery is another day without a competitive infrastructure and – with transport time and cost already being a burden to business in this area – the need for the road is urgent. It is a matter of opinion whether closures, like that of Inverurie Paper Mill, might have been averted if it did not take up to an hour’s additional time for traffic to fight its way through (or round) Aberdeen.

The biggest frustration, undoubtedly, is the ignorance of so many people about the remarkable achievements that have been driven by the business community in Aberdeen. In the last 40 years, the North Sea oil and gas industry has delivered energy and wealth to the UK. Aberdeen is well established as second only to Houston as a global upstream oil centre.

It is said – and I can well believe it – that the Aberdeen area delivers more company tax for the UK exchequer than the much-lauded (at least, before the crash) ‘Square Mile’ in London.

Aberdeen Beach
The oil industry, predominantly based in Aberdeen, contributes some £12bn to the UK economy and £35bn to the balance of trade.

Ask people across Britain about the North Sea oil and gas industry and many would, I am sure, tell you it is finished. The truth is that 70% of UK prime energy still comes from the North Sea and that is expected to rise over the next decade to 80%.

There is almost as much oil out there as has been brought ashore in the last four decades. Aberdeen also has the workforce, the infrastructure and the expertise to tackle the next big engineering challenge – marine renewables.

So the biggest challenge in 2010 remains the same as in 2006. We need to be more effective at communicating the achievements of our economy and at persuading government that we need to see investment in infrastructure if Aberdeen is to continue its role of wealth creation for the UK.

If you doubt that need, just look across the North Sea to see the more dynamic approach of the Norwegian government to bolstering their position in the global oil industry!

  • Deputy Chairman Cameron Ramsay of Cogna Ltd takes over as Chairman of IoD Aberdeen at the start of the autumn session.
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