For those of us in business involved in running small , medium, or large enterprises, the thing we think about most is our ability to make a profit. In my own case I would expand that to a two word phrase: ‘profitable growth’.
As a Scottish engineering graduate and, after an indirect career path via Germany, I now find myself running a North Ayrshire based SME operating within the environmental sector, electronics recycling to be precise. When I joined Datec Technologies, we employed around 20 and operated from one small site.
We now operate two sites (one in Sweden) employing around 100 in total (the majority in Scotland). The sector we operate in depended initially on the substantial electronic/IT manufacturing industry which existed here in Scotland some 10-15 years ago (and longer). But that industry – like so many here – has largely disappeared from our shores. Many readers will recall the corridor running through our central belt was known as Silicon Glen.
Fortunately, as a SME with an outward-looking vision, we have been able to differentiate ourselves in the face of change: we have been agile, flexible, and adaptive in going out and winning the new business to replace that which disappeared from Scotland. And so because of our agility and small size, we have been able to adapt and grow – profitably.
Personally, this has been satisfying on several levels: importantly our business has some eighty or so families, living mostly in North Ayrshire, earning a wage from a local well established company in the environmental sector, that operates at the vanguard of electronics, IT, and telecommunications recycling. So as well as meeting profit targets, I am proud of the role our business plays socially and environmentally here in North Ayrshire and in Scotland as a whole.
I often wonder if that is why we have such a good fit with our Swedish colleagues – those shared values of profit, coupled with social and environmental awareness and concern.
Having travelled there on many many occasions, I often remark to my Swedish friends on their quiet optimism in how they go about things. Their results speak for themselves: major leading world corporations such as Tetra-Laval, ABB, IKEA, Volvo, Bofors, Electrolux, Ericsson, H&M. But crucially the country also a highly able and established SME sector. And that is all without oil and gas. And also without a banking crisis – which was meant to be global (it wasn’t).
In setting up our own subsidiary in central Sweden two years ago, where we now employ 20, I have come to the conclusion that Sweden works as a small independent northern European country, largely in part because of the short communication connections in their society between the SME business owners/decision makers and their elected representatives who govern – and crucially – who have the power to make a difference for businesses.
These short societal connections allow Sweden’s business community and politicians to shape things together for the good of the SME environment there. In Scotland, by contrast, the majority of fiscal/regulatory frameworks we operate under are decided by folk far away in London. Even if they do know what is right for the Scottish SME business community, the imbalance I see from the status quo means that the Scottish SME view would not be represented in equal measure in those decisions taken in those far-off corridors of power.
Progressing in business involves change and a key part of the positive change we need will be when Scottish businesses have the benefit and influence, via short direct connections to government, here in a Scotland which has full fiscal and regulatory options available to it. That way the changes we want as SMEs can be heard and acted upon.
Some people have said the advantages for business in an independent Scotland would be tenuous and vague. My Swedish friends don’t think of independence that way, they would use words such as: solid, strong and successful. Which is why I will be voting Yes in 2014.
10 Swedish companies shaping the world – The Official Gateway to Sweden