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Scottish International Week

Firms advised to connect, innovate and be focused

Russell Dalgleish talks to Bob Keiller via Zoom

* Bob Keiller: value your network, re-invent yourself

* Don Riddell, CNN anchor: there are ‘many Americas’

Companies should ‘get back to fundamentals’, tap their network and be prepared to innovate in order to survive the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Scottish business leader.

Bob Keiller, former CEO of Wood Group and chairman of Scottish Enterprise, told a virtual global audience that firms faced with challenges had to refocus and be prepared to try something new.

“Get back to the fundamentals of the business. Look at your customer base, stock levels, cash flow, sales pipeline.

“Some businesses have seen opportunities to grow but they tend to be in the minority,” he said during an online session for Scottish International Week, organised by the Scottish Business Network and supported by Daily Business.

Acknowledging that the rules had changed and companies were facing the prospect of their market being wiped out, he said: “In the past we would tell companies to expand their product base and move into new markets.

The potential to do business internationally is stronger than it has ever been

– Bob Keiller

“Today it is more challenging. Instead of focusing on product range ask about the skills you have, not what you did, but what you can do.

“How do you innovate quickly and purposefully? Some of this will be down to strong leaders saying this is what we are going to do and how you keep people on that journey.”

He said that technology had changed exporting and networking so that people were able to connect and trade without the need to travel.

However, in some cases it was still necessary to have people on the ground, understanding local markets.

He referred to a “grow, stay, go” strategy by which companies made quick decisions on whether there is a market, or whether it would be best to withdraw.

He said that the mix of physical and online connectivity meant the “potential to do business internationally is stronger than it has ever been.”

He said that building networks remains vital to opening doors. “It is about people helping people in a supportive and mutual way.”

Don Riddell in his studio: be focused on your market

CNN anchor says ‘there are lots of Americas’

Don Riddell left Edinburgh as a child as his family moved to London and Leeds before he finally made the move to the US. But he never lost touch with his Scottish roots.

For the past 18 years he has worked for global media broadcaster CNN, first in London and for the past eight years in Atlanta, Georgia where he his anchor for its international sports desk.

Mr Riddell, interviewed via Zoom by Scottish Business Network’s Russell Dalgleish, advised anyone looking to pick up trade in the US to realise how big it is and focus on who and what they are targeting.

Speaking from his studio, he said: “America is a massive country and there are lots of Americas, but don’t be put off by the fact it is massive. There are lots of different markets here.”


He said Americans were very confident and taught from an early age not to be shy.

“They know how to sell and present themselves, but if you come here don’t talk politics unless you are sure which side your business partner is on!

Mr Riddell said Americans thought highly of Scots as welcoming and funny with a great heritage but Scots tended to be more shy and less willing to talk themselves up.

He said tennis star Andy Murray was a great ambassador for Scotland “and the human race”, adding: “You see the way he conducts himself. He’s softly spoken, but razor sharp and sticks up for women.

Andy Murray: great ambassador

“Scotland should be so proud of Andy Murray. He will open a lot of doors.”

Mr Riddell said the pandemic had forced CNN, like other companies, to have staff working remotely and it would likely impact on how it operates in future.

He was in a studio with just a handful of people where normally there would be hundreds, he said.

“I would not have believed six months ago you could produce a TV show like this. It is testament to how we can all adapt and how much better internet and broadband speeds have got.

“People are on a very clear connection and we can make TV shows just as good as before.”

He said CNN had already decided to relocate to other offices in Atlanta “and I am sure they will be asking how many desks they need”.

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