Jump to content
Even in a recession, Scotland now has five entrepreneurs worth more than £1 billion - Gillian Bowditch charts the rise of the ‘macbillionaires'
As years go, the past 12 months have not been much of a party for the super-rich. Sales of champagne are down 12% in the UK. Shareholders are cutting up rough over bonuses. In Scotland, the image of Fred Goodwin - once the toast of the financial sector - stripped of his knighthood sent shivers down the spine of Armani-clad executives.
Last week it was revealed that 55 Scots a day are going bankrupt with 29 Scottish companies going out of business every week in the first three months of this year. But a small elite are bucking the trend - the macbillionaires. For the first time, according to The Sunday Times Rich List, Scotland has five individuals and families worth more than £1,000m, up from two last year.
The new members of the macbillionaires' club are the Grant and Gordon family, the whisky magnates, Alastair Salvesen, the transport and plant-hire tycoon, and Jim McColl, the man behind the remarkable rise of Clyde Blowers.
Topping the list again is Mahdi al-Tajir, 80, originally from the United Arab Emirates, who owns the 15,000 Blackwood Estate in Perthshire. His fortune is estimated at £1.6 billion, up from £1.5 billion. Last week his Highland Spring company, based in Perthshire, was crowned the UK market leader accounting for 20% of bottled water sales nationwide.
At No 2 , up one place in the ranking and with a fortune of £1.4 billion up from £950m, is the Grant and Gordon family, producers of Glenfiddich, the world's best-selling single malt. The company can trace its origins back to 1887 when it was established by William Grant. Three weeks ago, the matriarch of the family and Scotland's oldest woman, Janet Roberts, died at the age of 110. She was the last surviving grand-daughter of the founder. Her great-nephew Peter Grant Gordon is current chairman.
The biggest riser in the Rich List is McColl, who has gone from ninth to fifth place and seen his fortune rise from £570m to £1 billion in the last year. The 60-year-old Scot, who left school at 16 and who lives in Monaco, has taken his business from a loss-making engineering company, which he bought in 1992, to a business with a £1.4 billion turnover, employing 5,500 in 27 countries.
So what has changed? Has Scotland become a more entrepreneurial country? John Anderson, chief executive of the Entrepreneurial Exchange, which has 400 members with a combined turnover of £23 billion, says the answer is ‘yes'. "It's taken us years, though," he said with a laugh. "It's been a journey from the wilderness. I remember when I first came back from America there were hardly any entrepreneurs here. I've been involved in the Exchange since it started 17 years ago and I remember when we introduced the Entrepreneur of the Year Award, people said, ‘Where will you find them?' But, of course, we do every year."
Despite the economic downturn, Scots at the top of the tree are getting richer. The top 100 Scots have a combined wealth of £20.08 billion. There are more Scots than ever before in the Rich List's top 1,000 - 74, up from 70 last year - and you have to be richer than ever to join the club. Last year a mere £47m would get you entry into the Scottish list. This year, you have to have £52m to make the cut.
Anderson believes the biggest difference has been a change in attitude among Scots generally. "There's more of an understanding that creating wealth is good thing," he said. "People used to be suspicious about it. If you had created wealth, the belief was that you had done it at someone else's expense. There was an old-fashioned socialist mentality in Scotland, a sense that if you had money, you must have exploited someone else. That's gone now."
Scotland may not have fully bought into the Thatcher revolution but it couldn't wholly ignore it. The stiff suits who ran private companies and met at the New Club in Edinburgh started to give way to a new generation of high-profile young Scottish entrepreneurs. The explosion in new technology in the 1990s gave young entrepreneurs the opportunity to join the rich club.
It's still happening. New to the Scottish Rich List this year is Pete Cashmore, the 26- year-old Aberdonian at No 84 with a fortune estimated at £60m. Cashmore, the man behind Mashable, a technology and internet blog that attracts 20m visitors each month, started up at 19. Now the American media company CNN has valued it at $200m (£123m).
But of the top 20 richest Scots of 2012, only one has made money from technology; Graham Wylie, the Scot behind the Sage software business. Scotland's super rich have mainly made their fortunes from Scotland's traditional industries - oil, whisky, fish, engineering and transport.
Anderson says one of the big changes in Scotland's entrepreneurial culture is the way the focus has moved away from the high-risk technology and life-science businesses back towards family businesses. Once seen as plodding and decidedly unsexy, family businesses, which have weathered economic downturns for generations, have become the backbone of the economy. They often have rural roots.
"The big opportunity for Scotland is in family businesses," said Anderson. "A few years ago, a lot of the emphasis at Scottish Enterprise was in sexy, new things like optoelectronics. Yes, there is a huge opportunity for knowledge and science-based businesses but we've got more mature in understanding the opportunities in family businesses. We've seen people take an existing family business and transform it."
That's certainly the case for the Highland-based Grant and Gordon firm, and is true for Aberdonian Sir Ian Wood and Alastair Salvesen, a scion of the Christian Salvesen transport operation, who has taken the business in new directions with Dawnfresh Seafoods.
The other big change has been the democratisation of wealth in Scotland. The Duke of Sutherland - No 10 on the list with a £525m fortune - and the Duke of Buccleuch, owner of Scotland's only Leonardo da Vinci and at No 19 with £180m, are still in the top 20. But few of the new breed of super-rich were born with silver spoons in their mouths. By and large, the wealth of the nation has slipped through the manicured fingers of the landed gentry into the hard hands of self-made entrepreneurs.
Acceptance of the super-rich has also come about as Scots have become more aspirational and new entry points to the club have opened up. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the inclusion on the Rich List of Colin and Chris Weir - in at No 23 - whose £161m fortune was won on the lottery. The retired cameraman and nurse were last year instantly catapulted into the rich league.
Programmes such as The Apprentice and Dragons' Den have brought the concept of entrepreneurship to a new generation and Scotland's leading entrepreneurs, such as Sir Tom Hunter and Willie Haughey - feted for their philanthropy - are giving something back to the next generation that is worth more than mere money; their time and expertise.
Tomorrow's young entrepreneurs look up to today's billionaires, said Anderson. "Role models are extremely important; we need to provide as many different genders, background and roles as possible," he said.
But what of the economic downturn? Anderson believes, contrary to received wisdom, that it may be helping to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs.
"We've got a new generation coming through who are not going to walk into a graduate programme or a job but they have been through enterprise education, which is now embedded in the Curriculum for Excellence," he said. "They are more alert to the opportunities of doing something for themselves."
At the other end of the spectrum, there is the person who has been made redundant and who now has the opportunity to start the business of which they've always dreamt. Even in a global recession, there is money to be made, as Scotland's new billionaires can testify.
Registered in Scotland. Company registration number SC483869.
Registered office: 13 Queen's Road, Aberdeen, AB15 4YL. Developed by Mercurytide