Jim McColl left school at the
age of 16. His first job was that of apprentice in one of Glasgow’s leading
engineering companies, Weir Pumps. After working for six years with Weir
Pumps he left to study full time for a BSc degree in Technology and Business
Studies at Strathclyde University. He returned to Weir Pumps for another
three years during which he studied part-time for a Masters degree in
In 1981 Jim was appointed to a senior management position in Diamond Power
Speciality Limited, an engineering company that supplied equipment to the
power industry worldwide. Jim was in charge of engineering, project
management and manufacturing. At the same time Jim completed a 3 year part
time course of study towards a Masters in International Accounting and
Finance. In 1985 Jim was head-hunted by Coopers & Lybrand as a senior
consultant in corporate care. His job was to work with companies that were
experiencing financial difficulties and needed turning around. In 1986,
realising that he could do similar work on his own account, he left Coopers
& Lybrand and became a self-employed “company doctor”.
After several successful turnarounds, Jim bought in 1992 a 29.9% stake in
Clyde Blowers plc, a small engineering company with a full listing on the
London Stock Exchange. Jim led a management buyout of Clyde Blowers plc (now
Clyde Bergemann Power Group) to take the company private.
Over the past 12 years Clyde Blowers has grown significantly and has
developed into a portfolio of global engineering companies. During 2001 the
Clyde Blowers business was reorganised into discrete independent companies
focusing on core markets. These businesses each had their own ownership
structure but in common they had a Clyde Blowers executive team as the
driver of the strategic direction.
In May 2007, Jim announced the acquisition of Weir Pumps (Glasgow) from The
Weir Group plc. The diverse portfolio of technologies, process knowledge and
expertise generated by Weir Pumps was incorporated into a newly created
company, Clyde Pumps Ltd, and in so doing 600 jobs and an important part of
Scotland’s engineering heritage was saved. Jim is an FSA Approved Person.
In September 2008, Jim led the largest transaction in Clyde Blowers’ history
by acquiring the entire Fluid & Power Division of Textron Inc, an American
Fortune 500 multi-industry company in a deal worth over $1 billion for which
he received the Deal of the Year Award and Investment Deal of the Year Award
at the Insider Deals: Dealmakers Awards.
Jim has received a number of honours and awards over the past 12 years
including the Entrepreneurial Exchange “Entrepreneur of the Year Award” for
1999/2000, the Ernst & Young “Master Entrepreneur of the Year Award” in 2001
and was inducted into The Entrepreneurial Exchange Hall Of Fame (2002). He
has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from five Universities - Napier
University, Glasgow Caledonian University, University of Glasgow and from
the Universities of Stirling and Strathclyde.
In 2001 Jim was honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List with an OBE.
In July 2005 HRH the Duke of Edinburgh awarded Jim with The Prince Philip
Medal 2005 “Certificate of Achievement” for an outstanding contribution to
the engineering industry. In May 2006, Jim was presented with a Scottish
International Business Achievement award from HRH the Princess Royal.
He may not look it – a
broad-shouldered, bullet-headed Glaswegian – but Jim McColl is the coalition
Government's poster boy.
The son of a butcher and a
school dinner lady, McColl has just sold ClydeUnion Pumps for £750m – having
bought it for £45m just four years ago.
While many businessmen have spent the years since 2007 wearing tin hats and
squirrelling away spare cash under the mattress, McColl has taken on a
dejected and rusty "old economy" company and transformed it.
Staff numbers have soared almost as fast as sales and rather than make way
for yet another housing estate – the pump factory was about to be sold to
developers – Glasgow has a shiny industry leader.
The billionaire Scot, who is already in process of his next
multi-million-pound deal, seems part-machine himself. The only thing that
appears to irritate him is other people moaning about the recession.
"More people could do it if they just dropped the negativity and did some
proper analysis of their sectors. Just see if the recession is really going
to impact you, because often there's no reason why it should," he said.
"A friend said to me recently, 'It's all right for you, you can dream but I
have to live with reality'. What's that? Reality is only someone else's
borders and limits. Just get on with it."
He is undoubtedly no-nonsense but he has succumbed to a few gentler
trappings of the super-rich. He has a collection of classic cars, has just
returned from watching David Beckham playing for LA Galaxy and counts among
his pals Brian Souter, the boss of Stagecoach, and Sir Tom Farmer, the
founder of Kwikfit.
And he's non-dom, based in Monaco. Like other tax exiles, he has no
compunction in trying to influence Government policy to get behind British
industry. "You can't have an economy based on financial services and
property," he said.
McColl says that on a trade visit to China with David Cameron, he told the
Prime Minister of the problems of getting trade finance. Within weeks of
returning home, UKTI got in touch. "They said they'd been given three months
by No 10 to get the fund up and running. It took them six months, but we
were the first to use it for a £15m order from China. I find the Coalition
is very serious about helping where it can."
Now he's got a taste for it, McColl is on to his next mission – to get the
Government to back an industrial investment bank.
"Whatever the banks say, credit is still very tight for SMEs. These
companies need proper support and I think a dedicated industry bank that
could specifically help small companies would be great. I'm happy to support
the idea if I can."
Brought up in the village of Carmunnock, near Glasgow, McColl went to the
local primary school, where there were only seven people in his class, then
on to Rutherglen Academy. He left at 16 ready to work.
"It was the time of severe industrial decline in Glasgow, engineering
companies were closing down," he said.
Even so, the young McColl set his sights on engineering, mostly because he
had a passion for fast cars. "I loved Formula 1 and Jackie Stewart was the
man of the moment – I couldn't wait to get my copy of MotorSport each month.
Years later I was able to sponsor Jackie Stewart's racing team – Paul
Stewart. But that was a long way away then."
He joined Weir Group as an apprentice, it was "what everyone else was
doing," he said. Driven by dreams of owning his own car, McColl earned extra
money at a local garage, fixing tyres and selling petrol. He completed four
years as an apprentice at Weir Group and spent another two years there, but
was quickly frustrated. He said: "I came to the realisation that I was going
to do this for the rest of my life unless I got better qualified. I noticed
the people getting paid the most understood the financial side of business."
McColl launched himself into studying. Through a series of night schools,
part-time courses and eventually full-time university courses, he clocked up
an extraordinary raft of qualifications, from an ONC in mechanical
engineering to a Masters in accounting and finance.
He said: "I guess I had a slight chip about leaving school so early. I was
determined to be the smartest guy at the table."
He was still working in engineering in Glasgow but by his late 20s his
now-impressive CV caught the attention of headhunters looking for industry
people with financial qualifications. He was hired by Coopers & Lybrand –
the forerunner of PricewaterhouseCoopers – as a company doctor.
He said: "My job was to go into struggling companies, mostly industrial
ones, and become a temporary chief executive. It was a good use of all my
qualifications and experience."
But within two years, McColl recognised the difference between the amount of
money he was earning for his employer and his own paycheck. He decided to do
the same thing, by himself.
The first company he bought was a small engineering firm called Clyde
Blowers for £3m. It was the smallest of eight competitors in its markets.
Within a few years, through a series of acquisitions, it became the biggest.
The next step was setting up a private equity-style investment fund with
several companies going through his books at the same time. Clyde Blowers
Capital was formed in partnership with SCF, a US private equity firm.
McColl did several deals before 2007 when he heard that Weir Pumps was
struggling and being sold to a Swiss firm. "Obviously I knew the company
well," he said: "I was immediately asked, is this your head or your heart
making the decision?"
He insists it was his head. "I just looked at it and thought, this is a
great company with a fantastic heritage and one-time leading products, why
isn't it doing better? It hadn't maintained the product side but that's easy
to fix if you hire the right people."
A key change has been to plant offices and factories around the world rather
than trying to ship all the orders from Glasgow.
ClydeUnion now has eight manufacturing sites and 25 service centres around
the world. He also overhauled the structure and hired aggressively.
At the beginning of 2009, the company was pitching for £50m of business a
month; by the end of the year this figure had grown to £250m per month and
conversion rate stayed the same.
"It's all about understanding your company and where it fits into its
market," he says. "If you take the time to do the proper analysis,
everything is easy."
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