Scottish Business Network
Interview: Russell Dalgleish and Christine Esson
They say that we have more options than ever to communicate with each other, thanks to the internet and smartphones, and so on.
Many, however, would argue that when it comes to building a real business relationship there is nothing to beat meeting someone in the flesh and in that respect there is a lot to be said for networking groups.
Russell Dalgleish and Christine Esson are behind the Scottish Business Network which, on the face of it, is a well-trodden idea.
It’s also very simple. Get a bunch of well-connected people in a room and invite along someone who’s keen to get their advice and, hopefully, a bit of business. The invited guest (or guests) gives a short talk and then has an “ask” – something he or she wants to learn.
They receive some advice and expertise, and get a few pointers about where to go next in their quest for growth. It may also open doors for the advisers if they spot an opportunity, perhaps a non-exec role or even an investment.
The events take place in London, as this – and the booming south-east economy – is the promised land where the Scottish Business Network believes growing companies ought to be heading.
It has signed up about 100 ex-pats who are eager to come along and help the folks back home.
“Many of them have been away from Scotland for some time, but they see some exciting things going on,” says Esson who spent 30 years working, first for Scottish Enterprise, and then Enterprise Ireland where she picked up some of the ideas she is now applying to SBN.
“I was working with Enterprise Ireland, helping bring companies into the UK and I could see how many events I was attending where the Irish made use of their diaspora.”
The Irish have certainly made a big play for their brethren in the UK capital. There is an Irish International Business Network and the London-Irish Business Society.
Esson unashamedly replicated what Enterprise Ireland was doing and set about targeting Scots in the right places working in the city. Among her targets was the London-Scottish rugby club which provided a list of people.
Shepherd and Wedderburn and Aberdeen Asset Management have helped provide meeting rooms in the city.
SBN came about after she met Russell Dalgleish over a coffee in Tottenham Court Road and they got talking about the idea.
“I could see the opportunity straight away,” he says. “A lot of business comes from people simply engaging with each other in these situations. I spent a lot of time in the 1990s working in California and there you had people working together for a common goal.
“It seems to me that collaboration is the way forward and it is something we encourage. London is a key market for Scottish businesses and we are keen to do what we can to get them in front of the right people who can open doors for them.”
The SBN has secured the endorsement of the Scottish government which has provided a £30,000 grant to help it build the programme. Keith Brown, the Economy Secretary, said it would be for “the benefit of Scottish entrepreneurs.”
Dalgleish says: “The Scottish government has been fantastic and has encouraged us.”
They have also secured support from Scottish Enterprise which has a similar initiative, the Global Scots. These tend to work through the SE system, but Esson and Dalgleish says all parties are happy to work together for a common goal.
SBN is already targeting Hong Kong and North America, but London will be the key focus, at least for the short term.
“There is more opportunity in London than people in Scotland imagine,” he says.
Christine Esson: Birthplace: Glasgow
Educated at Glasgow Caledonian University
Career Highlights: Accounts office at McCowans (then part of Nestle), Stenhousemuir; European accountant for OKI, Cumbernauld; financial controller, Scottish Enterprise Renfrewshire; senior director, Scottish Enterprise HQ; Enterprise Ireland, Glasgow; UK manager, Enterprise Ireland London
Educated at Edinburgh Napier University
Career highlights: since graduating has worked with various technology companies in UK and California; founder and managing partner of business advisory practice, Exolta; recently appointed to the Scottish Board of Trade.