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Significant Scots
Jim McColl

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 Business Administration.

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.

From The Telegraph newspaper we learn more...

How Jim McColl turned 45m into 750m in four years

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."

You can learn more about his businesses at:

Jim McColl speaks at the SIE Student Enterprise Summit 2012

You can download a pdf brochure about his company here

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