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INTERVIEW: Marie Macklin, entrepreneur

‘I love politics, but I can do more in business’

Marie Macklin

Marie Macklin’s reputation as a doer, a fighter, and a believer in putting something back has echoes of another female businesswoman drawn from the same west of Scotland schooling of making your own luck.

They also share initials, but the comparisons stop there. Macklin has been mentioned by some as an alternative choice of government adviser on start-up businesses, but she prefers to keep her thoughts on lingerie tycoon Michelle Mone and that controversial appointment to herself.

“I never talk about other businesses or business people,” says Macklin, curtly. Well, at least not this one. She is entitled to keep her counsel, though she is comfortable singing the praises of Sir Tom Hunter and Sir Willie Haughey, two of her mentors. In fact, along with Mone, they are all from the same generation of entrepreneurs who have helped a region once known for its culture of dependency to adopt a “can-do” attitude.

Since acquiring her former bricklayer father’s Klin Group construction business in 2003 she has not only done it for herself, she has helped transform the lives of others, either through her charitable work or through the company which she refocused around regeneration. It has acquired property and land for development, put derelict buildings back into use and restored livelihoods that had been threatened by closure.

Her latest initiative, announced earlier this week, is another step in that same direction. It involves three funds that will invest in promising businesses, but will go a bit further by having a social element. Macklin Enterprise Partnerships will take equity in companies who, she reveals, will be expected to donate 3% of their profit to charity or social enterprises.

She also wants investors to develop a long term relationship with the companies in which they invest. She will invest £5 million of her own money and is talking to about 15 high net worth individuals who will be asked to commit to providing support over five years (the industry average is three).

MEP also differs from many other investment vehicles in being non-sector specific, though she is keen to back manufacturing where she can. She is in talks with one manufacturer which is seeking £400,000.

“I have been involved in new-start businesses for some time through things like Entrepreneurial Spark, and I wanted to do more,” she says.

“I have always been a social entrepreneur. Investing in companies is not just about putting money in. It is about backing people, supporting communities and seeing their potential.”

Macklin is from Ayrshire stock and, notwithstanding a spat over her well-documented attempt to relocate Kilmarnock Football Club during her time as a shareholder, has become something of a local heroine.

She was instrumental in rescuing the Andrew Barclay railway works, moving it to a new site, and introducing the first Morrisons supermarket to Scotland. She later campaigned against Diageo’s closure of the Johnnie Walker bottling plant in the town, heading up a march of 20,000 people, and subsequently acquired part of the site for development.

“Do you just sit back and do nothing?” she says. “I now get on great with Diageo.”

Her efforts have been rewarded with a CBE and a visit to Holyrood Palace to meet the Queen.

“It was an amazing experience. I always wanted to meet the Queen,” she says. “She was very knowledgeable about the work I had done.”



Birthplace: Kilmarnock, 1970

Education: Kilmarnock Academy

Career highlights: First job was working in a shoe shop, fostering a lifelong love affair with shoes. She worked for RBS Invoice Finance in London, returning home at weekends to work in sales in father John Dick’s Klin Group. She became finance director and then bought the business.

Other: member of the board of Ayrshire College and Business Patron to Centrestage Music Theatre, the Kilmarnock social enterprise arts organisation; In 2013 she received the Association of Scottish Businesswomen’s Award for outstanding contribution to business.

What makes you angry?

Bureaucracy and people who say things can’t be done without trying to do them.

What advice would you give to someone starting up?

Be honest.

Is Scotland more entrepreneurial?

Yes, it is. There is now an aspiration culture.

You are a supporter of independence. Would you consider entering politics?

“No, I love politics, but I think I can do more as a businesswoman.”


Photo: Marie Macklin (by Terry Murden)

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