Aberdeen social entrepreneur delivers lecture at university

Global financier and social entrepreneur Duncan Skinner has paid a visit to his former university and shared his secrets to success with the aspiring business leaders of tomorrow at RGU in Aberdeen.  

More than 300 students attended the annual Absoft Entrepreneurship Lecture to hear from the Robert Gordon University graduate, who spoke alongside Absoft managing director Ian Mechie. The prestigious event, which is in its 19th year and has been sponsored by leading independent SAP software consultancy Absoft since 2002, was held at Aberdeen Business School. 

On February 12 Mr Skinner shared with students his remarkable knowledge and experience, explaining how he became chief financial officer of a world-leading company with 28,000 employees, and then went on to save social enterprise Glencraft from liquidation, protecting 42 jobs in the process.

Mr Skinner began his entrepreneurial journey when he and business partner Bob Keiller borrowed $300m to buy PSN from Halliburton subsidiary KBR. They were later sold in an outstanding deal for $1billion to Wood Group in 2011.

On the lookout for his next project, Duncan came to the rescue of Glencraft, formerly the Royal Workshops for the Blind, which was facing liquidation; and transformed the social enterprise into a successful and sustainable business. 

Among the students who attended the event was Catrin Sutherland who said hearing from Duncan had inspired her to pursue their own business ideas.

Management student Catrin Sutherland, who is originally from Orkney, is developing a business idea which is very close to her heart. The 20 year old’s mum is a wheelchair user and unable to find accommodation in Aberdeen which caters to her needs in order to attend Catrin’s graduation.

Catrin, who is currently in her third year of study, said: “I’d like to develop a guest house or similar accommodation in Aberdeen where my mum, and other wheelchair users, could stay and feel at home.

“Listening to Duncan has made me even more determined to push forward with my idea. I was lucky enough to speak to him after the lecture and he’s given me some great advice about how to progress with my plans.”

Duncan has devoted a great deal of his time to helping others, and is also Chairman of Aberdeen Football Club Community Trust and holds positions with a number of charitable causes and organisations in Scotland. He has a Bachelors degree in management from the Robert Gordon University and was named The Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013.

Duncan Skinner outlined five key elements for students to consider when embarking on their entrepreneurial journeys.

Mr Skinner told the students: "Firstly you need a series of good mentors to help you along the way, and secondly you need to be prepared for constant change in your industry which you will have to adapt to.

"Furthermore you should establish your own core values which you should carry throughout your career and always strive to give something back, whether that be to the local community or a cause that is important to you.

"The final piece of advice I can offer is to always show commitment in everything you do."

Ian Mechie, managing director of Absoft, said: “Duncan’s entrepreneurial journey is truly inspirational and has provided the students with real insight into how to make their own business dreams a reality.

“It’s a pleasure to share my own experience with these young people each year and I’m thrilled that Absoft continues to support this fantastic event.”

Mr Skinner co-hosted a master class session with Mr Mechie for a group of students after the lecture, giving them the opportunity to ask questions and seek advice from the entrepreneurial duo in an interactive session.

Mr Mechie then launched this year’s Converge Challenge, Scotland’s premier business competition which offers a prize fund of £100,000 to get ideas off the ground. The initiative is open to applicants across Scotland and Converge Challenge staff were on hand at RGU to encourage staff and students to take part.

Mr Mechie said: “The Converge Challenge is now regarded as a focal point within the Scottish entrepreneurial ecosystem. Over the last four years, the programme has engaged one hundred and twenty projects – about thirty percent of which have went on to create companies.

“I think this is a fantastic opportunity and would thoroughly encourage RGU students and staff with a business idea to take part.”

The session was introduced by Professor Heather Fulford, academic director of RGU’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and Rita Marcella, the dean of Aberdeen Business School, closed the lecture.