Stuart Patrick CBE
Stuart is the Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. We spoke to Stuart about his perspectives on The DNA of Glasgow.
Photo credit: Artur Kraft via Unsplash.
So I'm here today with Stuart Patrick, the chief executive of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. Stuart, welcome. Tell us, what do you think are the core elements of the DNA of Glasgow?
Well, I'm going to come at this from a perspective that's rather informed by being a Chamber of Commerce wallah, so there are a few things here that I'll select which I think are particularly relevant to that question. One of them would be the value that is attached to education. Now, education is one of those issues that's a hugely political and highly debated topic, but if you look back over the history of Glasgow's economic life, then you're going to find education is a very significant part of that. And the extra value, I think, in the Scottish education history attached to getting yourself properly educated and being sure that you are competitive in the market, that's been there for decades. And we are living the legacy of that partially through the result that we get in the number of folks who have degree-level qualifications in the workforce which is disproportionately higher in Glasgow and, for that matter, in Central Belt Scotland than in other parts of the UK and other parts of Europe. I think we'll see that in the stats when we're seeing, like, we're in the top 15% of cities for that level of graduate-level skill in the workforce. So that's one aspect.
I think the second one I'd throw in would be the frank, engaging, down-to-earth style of a city like Glasgow, I'm sure shared by other cities with, you might say, an industrial heritage. But it was delightful to see in the European Commission's Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor that Glasgow came out top for openness, tolerance and trust. And that rings true, I think, from the feedback we get from those who have invested in the city and for those who come to work in the city from outside, that they find it relatively easy to engage with the people at all levels.
And then my final comment would be around the long history of Glasgow as a trading and manufacturing city. We'll doubtless be saying a little bit more about Glasgow's history as a trading city. But the manufacturing heritage is perhaps the one that we are more familiar with, the heavy industry and the extent of the role that Glasgow played, particularly in transport systems, where shipbuilding and locomotive engineering, and what the legacy of that has been for our city.
Well, let's pick that up immediately because I wanted to ask you about how Glasgow's economy and its business community has evolved over time. What do you see as having been the key historical phases and specialisations that the city's had?
I would start with the trading history that we were talking about earlier. Glasgow started, essentially, as the port for accessing the East Coast of America, the Caribbean trade with the Americas, and so tobacco, sugar, some aspects of textiles would all be part of that trading history. That evolves as the families that built up their wealth from that successful merchanting phase reinvest in new technologies which in turn lead into a greater degree of emphasis on textile manufacturing. I can think of one example later.
I mentioned a particular merchant that falls into that category. But shipbuilding and locomotive engineering become the two most high-profile elements of that reinvestment in technology-- 19th century and how that then develops over the following hundred years into a very significantly concentrated cluster of activity around engineering which then collapses. And we go through phases of attempting to find alternatives to that not through the recycling of capital in the way that was done by the merchants but with a greater degree role for public sector, actually, and public sector policy affecting that.
So you find a phase of history around Silicon Glen and the role of more investment around electronics where you find the rise of financial services along the Clyde in the heart of Glasgow. And more particularly, now, you see this post-industrial phase of the role of science and technology, particularly with the help from the universities. So quantum engineering and laser technologies, photonics and precision medicine, all the various disciplines that all have thread back to engineering in many respects that build on the heritage of the city but are much, much more relevant to the big challenges of today in personalised medicine or in artificial intelligence and so forth.
Fascinating. And obviously, this rich history of engineering, invention, discoveries is something that we'll talk about quite a bit more. Can I ask you now just to say a little bit about the business community in the city and, for example, the Chamber of Commerce as one of the key institutions? How has business interfaced with the city and its people and the city government and other institutions over time? What kind of business community has it been?
Well, I suppose if you go right back, I can mention the experience of the merchants and the industrialists in Glasgow, as it would have been the same in so many other heavy industrial cities, that the merchants shaped the city. The merchants made the river; the merchants developed the trading opportunities that created the economy that is now Glasgow.
So I can think of one character, whose statue sits at the top of the stairs as you're coming into the Chamber of Commerce, Kirkman Finlay who was the president of the chamber. He's the most prolific chamber president; he was chamber president eight times. He was the son to the original James Finlay, the James Finlay tea-trading company that evolved over time and subsequently, was purchased by Swire's. But at the time that Kirkman Finlay was in his his pomp, he was not only the successful merchant that took James Finlay into a next evolution, his phase was about textiles manufacturing, and he was one of the prominent merchants for tackling the monopoly of the East India Company and breaking into far eastern markets from Glasgow.
As a consequence, he also became a very significant player in politics: so he was the Lord Provost in Glasgow, he was the rector of the university in Glasgow, he was an MP for Glasgow. So he played that role that you were expected to play as a significant merchant, that you were a leader not just of your particular industry or your particular company but on the city as a whole. That, of course, has evolved. And the role of business more as a support to government and as a partner to government in the shaping of the economy is a much more relevant role for us to play now.
And would you like to add a couple more lines about the Chamber of Commerce itself? Because I imagined there was a moment in history when a group of merchants decided to form this august organisation. If there was, why did they do it, and how did its role evolve?
Yes, there was a moment. It was in 1783, which actually was a very interesting phase in Glasgow's history, of course, because Adam Smith had only seven-years-past published 'The Wealth of Nations', so there was a whole spirit of debate around the role of free trade. And in Glasgow's particular case, the unfortunate loss of the American War of Independence had a shattering effect on the market that Glasgow had built-up its economic success upon-- and the merchants' conscious that no individual on their own was going to find a way of dealing with that issue of finding access to back into eastern seaboard United States or easily finding ways of overcoming things like the East India Company's monopoly over far east trade. How were they going to get themselves new markets?
So the Chamber of Commerce was a self-help group, essentially, one of the earliest Chamber of Commerce in the world. And we like to say we are the oldest English-speaking Chamber of Commerce in the world with continuous records, i.e., at no time did we go bust in our history. And we are today a group of 1,200 businesses from all sizes and shapes across the Glasgow economy with a particular purpose to support the growth of our members' businesses but also to champion Glasgow as a place to do business.
I want to ask you in a minute about Glasgow's business community today, but just before we do that, is there something important to say about entrepreneurs and innovators and merchants and traders who left Glasgow and went to live in other parts of the world and established their business there, as it were, the global Glaswegians? To what extent is that an important part of the city's business history?
Well, indeed, it certainly will be because you'll look at cities like New York and cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong, and it'll not take you long to find Scots that have an important role to play whether they be Glaswegians or Central Belt Scots. So Jardine Matheson in Hong Kong would be a case in point. HSBC actually, dare I say it, would have close Scottish connections from the past as well. So there are plenty of examples of that.
We make a particular feature now-- perhaps not as relentlessly as the Irish do. We haven't quite managed to develop our talents for diaspora exploitation to the levels that I think our Irish colleagues have, but we're working on it. So we were just back from Hangzhou and Shanghai and there are several companies out there - Weirs; Edrington, the whisky company; Peak Scientific that do gas generators - who are all playing a strong role in and around Shanghai and who have had a long history of international global trading. So it's not as if that diaspora is no longer useful to us and that we're not making the most of it. We're at it now. The trading history of Scottish-Glaswegian businesses worked in our favour.
Stuart, you've talked very richly about the history of business in Glasgow and the role of the merchants, the manufacturing, engineering, discovery, the global trade. What about Glasgow's business community today? To what extent-- how would you characterize it today, and how does it reflect some of those histories, and where are there new edges?
I suppose I'd start from the premise that we've been through possibly one of the most disruptive transitions from a very concentrated cluster of heavy engineering companies into something more diverse and therefore, slightly more difficult to describe. You can't just say, “Glasgow is the city of” and choose your sector; although, I would still say I have an inkling towards Glasgow: City of Engineering. It's still a fundamental part of so much of what Glasgow does. So one of the challenges for a city like Glasgow was the extent to which one had to rely on inward investment as a strategy for transition, for transformation into a post-industrial or post-post-industrial city and less on the recycling of indigenous family business wealth. A lot of that was lost either through collapse of the cluster or through, in some cases, nationalisation of the industries that were the specialisms of Glasgow.
But now, today, we feel much more confident about the success of Glasgow's regeneration phase. We can say, of course, we've got-- I think something like 40% of FTSE 100 companies have some form of presence in Glasgow. We still, therefore, have a very solid inward-investment tradition to build upon that's not all about UK companies. There's a lot of American companies here: the JPMorgan's and Morgan Stanley's, Ace Insurance's - these are all important companies - the Tallas', from BNP Paribas from the continent. So there's a real rich mix of outside investors that have established themselves here.
But the bit that's really attractive and exciting for us is the re-emergence of indigenous entrepreneurial companies. So having half of Scotland's AIM industries or businesses in the city - the likes of Smart Metering Systems or Craneware or Celtic, for that matter - who are all quoted on AIM is a sign of that re-emergence of faster-growing entrepreneurial companies. But you can also point to smaller ones, like Clyde Space and CubeSats or M Squared Lasers in quantum engineering that are establishing themselves as really attractive participants in the new Glasgow economy.
One of the questions I want to bring you onto is the role of business leadership in the city, particularly civic-minded business leadership. Glasgow has a kind of reputation for having business which is very engaged in the life of the city, the future of the city, a lot of partnership work.
Well, firstly, do you think that's true? And secondly, is there a broader tradition here that you're building upon, and why is this so important in Glasgow?
You might go back to the 1960s and 70s and say that, actually, the relationship between business and government was relatively fractured because the policy stances taken by national government at that time were rather suspicious of the capability of indigenous companies - weren't they the cause of so much of the problem of the collapse of the heavy industrial cluster? - and policy was largely based on public intervention in spite of rather than alongside business.
I would say, since the late '80s, that shifted dramatically. So the establishment in the late-80s of Glasgow Action under the chairmanship of Lord Macfarlane of Bearsden, who had Macfarlane Packaging and who was a key player in the whiskey industry as well. He started the whole process of re-engagement of business with government agencies whether that was the Scottish Development Agency at the time or indeed, with the regional and local council structure at that time.
And over the last 30 years, a variety of forms of engagement between business and local and national government have evolved to the stage now where we have a really strong interaction between both national and local government and the academic community and the business community in the form of, for example, the Glasgow Economic Leadership board or in the more practical work that's done through the Glasgow Partnership for Economic Growth with the council itself. So there are plenty of mechanisms now in place to help shape the relationship between business and city.
It comes to its head at points when the city has to compete, to go out there and get something, to win something in open battle with surrounding cities or colleagues around the rest of the country. We're really good at marshalling the forces of business alongside government and academic partners to secure major events. I think being named in the World Travel Awards in Oman as the world's leading destination for major events and festivals rather suggests that we were getting that bit of it right.
I think, equally, you can begin to see the impact of that in the strategic discussion as well, the extent to which we say, “where are the real winners going to be in Glasgow?” And I know you're not supposed to pick winners, but you always do. Where do we need to put some of our focus on, whether it's skills development, whether it's infrastructure development or whether it's straightforward business-development support? The collaboration between government, academic and business life is now pretty much taken for granted as part of the norms of the city.
It sounds, Stuart, that you're saying that the business community is motivated by this idea, almost, of civic competitiveness. If Glasgow can win by business partnering and therefore, create a win-win for the city, its people and its business community, then business really wants to get on board.
I think there is an evolution in this discussion as well because I think business would have seen its self-interest in supporting the development of the city, where it was concerned with issues like talent, attraction, or you happened to be in an industry like commercial property where the ability to attract investment depended very heavily on what the city as a whole can offer. So there are a number of industries that were-- whether you were the airport or you were, as I say, a commercial property agent or a recruitment agent or a commercial lawyer, you are obviously interested in the extent of which the city as a whole performed because your business depended on it.
I think, increasingly, now, we see the extent to which particularly globalised businesses are worried about just how are they seen predominantly by their customers and by their future talent pipeline. How are they seen as playing their role in tackling some of the consequences of globalisation whether that's climate change or poverty reduction or dealing with some of the other wider social issues that come from economic transition? We find a greater number of larger companies wanting to play a role and being able to say not just we've done it but, what's the impact of what we've done, has it added up to more than the sum of the parts?
Last question if I may. So, Stuart, you travel the world frequently now, promoting Glasgow, its business community, its economy, its opportunity. When people ask you what makes Glasgow and its business different or distinctive, what's your answer?
That's a very, very tough question to be convincing on, and it depends on the audience what your answer is. So if I'm talking at MIPIM on the extent to which you should develop your new offices in Glasgow, I will talk about the extent to which that education system has led to a very distinctive talent base and why, you know, your end users are going to find Glasgow an attractive proposition at a decent price. So you're going to make comparisons, distinctive comparisons about Glasgow to other parts of the UK, other parts of Europe on skills, on cost, in the way that everybody does.
When it comes down to saying, how does Glasgow earn its living in a distinct way, you're going to find some of your history will drive you into descriptions that you use. So Glasgow as the whisky distribution capital of the world; that's something that no one else is going to be able to say. For us at the chamber, the whisky industry is a very important part of our daily life. A lot of debate about where is the whisky industry based, who runs it, but from a practical experience, the whisky industry is a very important part of the city's economy. And only Glasgow, as a city, can say that whisky plays this role and that Glasgow plays its particular role in the whisky industry in the world.
Or we might be asking, well, why is it that Glasgow produces so many CubeSats? Why is that the-- what is it about Glasgow and its particular experience of engineering that has led it to a point where it has such a strong performance in pocket satellites and space technologies? And I will find similar examples in the likes of precision medicine or in aspects of more traditional engineering like mineral extraction.
So I wouldn't say Glasgow is the “city of”, you know, distinctively one thing. It is a large city, so it's going to be-- in European terms, so it's going to be a diverse economy. But I can always find, in the market that we're interested in, the distinctness that we're going to rely on to sell our wares, to attract investment and jobs to this part of the world.