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14 April 2003
A Profile of Professor Derek Reid
Tourism's maverick is getting back to basics
BUSINESS IN PERSON
Reproduced with permission from
the Scotsman, 11th April 2003
(Filed 14 April 2003)
© The Scotsman
DEREK Reid has been banging on about Scottish
tourism for more than a decade, both from inside and outside officialdom.
At various times hes been chief executive of the then-Scottish
Tourist Board; owned a major hotel; been a director of Scotland
the Brand and Made in Scotland, and he is now visiting professor
in tourism at the University of Abertay.
Whatever role hes been playing, Reid freely
admits to being a maverick, saying things officialdom doesnt
always want to hear. This week hes been in the news again,
calling for determined action by the next Scottish Parliament to
salvage the countrys "appalling and unacceptable"
economic record. If tourism - Scotlands biggest industry -
is to reverse its slide, the Executive and Parliament have to swallow
their pride and take outside advice, he said.
Reid - who away from tourism has had a successful
career in big business and remains a director of several companies
- says his comments were something of a cry of frustration, and
he admits that he sees little chance the First Minister, Jack McConnell,
will take any heed of his call.
Reid says: "It seems very obvious to me that
the Scottish economy is in very poor shape. We have a very, very
poor growth rate, we have seen our traditional industries going
- agriculture, fishing, traditional manufacturing and engineering,
textiles - and we have seen nothing to take their place other than
short-term measures from inward investment, such as call centre
jobs. I think, at my age, Ive had my successes and Ive
had my failures and I dont want to sound arrogant about this,
but what the Scottish Executive should be doing is using people
like myself and others and bringing them into the decision-making
"But, of course, they are scared to do that
because we are mavericks, we are controversial and what they want
are people who tell them that what they are doing is right - and
Im not going to tell them that. What Im going to do
is tell them that we are not approaching the problem in the correct
Reids recipe for an upturn in Scotlands
economy is to follow the lead of another small country, New Zealand.
He says that country in the past 20 years has taken a cold, hard
look at its situation, called in outside experts - particularly
the Harvard Business School - to identify its strengths and then
rigorously applied the economic restructuring needed to improve
its position. He says the result has been a revolution in the New
Zealand economy, a tourism industry that is growing at 10 per cent
a year and occupies sixth place in the worlds entrepreneurial
league, compared to Scotlands 29th rank.
"We should have the courage to do what New
Zealand did and hire the expertise to look at Scotlands strengths,
which are considerable: the very word Scotland conjures up brand
values of inventiveness, integrity and honesty - those are three
God-given assets to have."
He also says a weakness in Scotlands economy
is a lack of "joined-up thinking". Universities, business
and the communities all need to be part of economic decision making.
"The lead has to come from the parliament. I agree it is not
totally in its hands, but the First Minister has got to stand up
and deliver a clear direction and a clear vision and to recognise
that he cannot do that himself, so hes got to get expertise
in to do that. Now, do you think for a minute that he will take
advice from the Harvard Business School or the Royal Society of
Edinburgh? Not a chance."
He says one problem for Scottish tourism has been
that it has not been treated like a business - something he is working
to address in his position at the University of Abertay. "Tourism
is part of mainstream business and I think in many ways tourism
really has to be taught like any other business skill. The skills
for managers of hotels are the same as for managers of a factory
or managers going out and running some enterprise."
Another key problem he sees is the lack of international
air links to Scotland, particularly across the Atlantic. US tourists,
with very limited vacation time, simply will not add hours or days
on to their trips by having to change planes at London.
Reids involvement in Scottish tourism came
after a successful career with the food and beverage giant Cadbury
Schweppes. After graduating from Aberdeen University he joined Cadbury
Schweppes as a trainee and worked his way through the ranks to became
a director of its tea and food business.
When the company decided to move out of those
areas in the 1980s, Reid and a group of fellow executives led a
£97 million management buy-out - pledging everything they
owned to the banks and taking on an interest burden of £1,000
He points to that experience as demonstrating
the kind of confidence Scottish business needs to acquire if it
is to succeed. "We took the risk not because of a craving to
make a lot of money but because the ambition and desire was there
to be a success."
Eventually Reid and his colleagues sold the company
to a new owner. "Then I decided that having worked in a big
company and then being an owner of my own I didnt want to
work for anybody else," he says.
"I came back to Scotland, got involved in
a number of businesses up here and got involved in tourism because
I owned a hotel in Perth. I started seeing that the way the Scottish
Tourism Board was marketing Scotland was not the way that I would
market Scotland and I starting writing to it to express my views."
When the position of chief executive became vacant,
he decided to apply, on the basis that it was one thing to stand
on the sidelines and criticise and quite another to put your hat
in the ring and see how you perform.
"I never thought they would employ anyone
like myself and I made it very clear that I would only do it for
three years," he says.
"Without wishing to appear to be arrogant,
that was the only time that Scottish tourism has shown any growth,
from 1994 to 1997. Since then it has just gone down, and I dont
claim that it wouldnt have gone down had I still been there,
but I would have had a bloody good go of turning it around and finding
Reid says he is winding down his business involvements,
although an ongoing passion is a New Zealand wine company he owns
called Rongopai, in which he has invested considerable amounts in
recent years. He is also chairman of the Harris Tweed manufacturer
Donald Macleod Ltd.
"I think Im someone with a few different
business interests whos trying to give something back to Scotland.
Ive been through the phase of being an entrepreneur, of making
money and growing businesses. What Im now concentrating on
is giving a little back to the community."
Who is in the family? Married with two children.
Have you any hobbies or interests? "Im
a very keen golfer and I like fishing, although Im pretty
awful at it.
I love reading and I love music. A recent book
Ive read, and I commend it to you, is Carol Craigs The
Scots Crisis of Confidence, which is a wonderful book."
How much would you spend on a bottle of wine?
"At home I would spend up to twenty quid, but no more than
that because you can get very good quality for that. I love sauvignon
blancs and pinot noirs."