THE region's economy has altered dramatically in the last two decades but Doug Scott's drive to make the North East a more enterprising place hasn’t.
ATTITUDES and culture are important to Doug Scott – and they’re things he’s been battling to change for the better since the late 1980s.
And that work has just been recognised with a lifetime achievement accolade in the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion – an honour that is only ever presented to one person each year.
Gateshead-born Scott, who has been chief executive of the Jarrow-based Tyneside Economic Development Company – better known by its acronym of Tedco – since 1997, had no idea he had been nominated. One of the reasons he scooped everybody else was a 10-year project to bring enterprise into the classroom.
Although organisations such as Young Enterprise were doing good work, it was a very different world from today when Government money is channeled into schools in a bid to create the next generation of entrepreneurs.
“I was looking at some of the data on South Tyneside and I thought that’s all well and good, but things aren’t that much better than when I came here 10 years ago,” Scott said.
“So we decided what we needed to do was to get into the local schools, so we had a programme that lasted almost 10 years in the end, between 1999-2000 and 2007-08.
“We worked in every secondary school in the borough, a bit across Tyne and Wear and in some schools across the whole region doing enterprise education.”
He admits that he was disheartened when he was faced with the attitudes of young people, particularly young boys who could see no future for themselves.
“It was in the era of closures of everything that young lads thought they could do – or that their parents had depended on; ships and coal and heavy engineering-related industries. And that was all going the wrong way in the 80s,” he said.
“I remember talking to kids who were about to leave school and who had left school and they were literally hopeless.”
He remembers listening to a local radio piece on the opening of a Barclays call centre in Sunderland’s Doxford Park.
“The reporter was going down John Street in Sunderland, microphone in hand, bumped into this young lad and said ‘what do you think, Barclays opening at Doxford Park?’ ‘That’s nae bloody good, it’s women’s work, that,’ was the reply.
“And I thought, to me, that encapsulates the problem.”
One of the solutions, he believes, is to make people believe they can succeed. And to do that, you’ve got to get them while they’re young.
“The kids were being exposed to the enterprise message through practical activities, they were becoming more positive towards themselves, gaining experience, gaining exposure,” says Scott.
“It’s long-term stuff and very few organisations have the longevity or the money to be able to measure the long- term value, but in a taking the temperature kind of way, I do feel that young people are much more optimistic and positive on average in the areas that we work in than they were 10 years ago.”
One of the problems is the age-old issue of keeping the brightest and best in the region. Research carried out for Tedco by Durham University uncovered a strange fact about successful young business people in South Tyneside.
“Of the young people – under 30 – who had started businesses that were more ambitious and more successful, the only common characteristic they had was that they’d spent time outside of South Tyneside,” said Scott.
“They’d either gone to university and come back or they’d been in the forces or they’d worked away. They’d had a significant experience somewhere other than their back door.
“And that seemed to somehow broaden their horizons, open their minds to a whole set of things.”
Although inhibited by the size of the market – he says in an hour’s drive from central London there are 25 million potential customers compared to two-and-a-half million in an hour’s radius of Newcastle – Mr Scott says there is no reason why the region can’t build on its proud heritage and grow more of its own successful businesses.
“This was the region that could produce Armstrong, Swans, Reyrolle, Parsons, Merz, the Stephensons – the list goes on and on – engineers, designers, scientists who broke the mould,” he says.
“I think it’s 90% of ships that were used in the Japan-China War of 1906 were built on the Tyne – that’s both sides.
“We’ve got fantastic heritage and these people were fantastic entrepreneurs as well, they weren’t just engineers and scientists. The region’s got a tremendous history – so if you say ‘what happened,’ I’m sure that we still have the brains, the ambition.
“I don’t know quite what the solution is, but there are fascinating things happening in the region now. There’s about £70m being invested in the renewable technologies up at Blyth and in the universities, Nissan’s activities – the battery plant – then all the process industries stuff down on Teesside, the life sciences stuff in Newcastle and Durham,
“There’s lots of interesting stuff going on and there’s loads of very successful businesses still in the region, but there aren’t enough of them.”
One of the issues has been creating an environment that supports business and supports success.
“When I left university, it was just after the ‘winter of discontent’ and there were folk marching around with placards ‘we demand the right to work’ – on one hand, I had a great deal of sympathy with that because unemployment was massive, inflation was running wild,” said Mr Scott.
“That means that somebody has a duty to employ you and it’s not Russia, so the Government’s not going to employ everybody. And that really falls down to the private sector to pick up that baton and take on the role of employing people.
“In some ways, I think the army of small business people around the country perform a critical function. I believe in the value of the small business sector, I believe in the value of having a local culture that supports business.
“It’s better now than it has been but it’s not perfect. A few years ago, we helped a young woman get some publicity and she got hate mail from the neighbours a few days later saying ‘who do you think you are, you jumped up little so and so’.
“Presumably the neighbours feel fearful of anyone making progress, getting above themselves, getting above their station – and I think it’s exactly those types of attitudes that we need to combat, help people to feel positive about business wherever it is.”
But he is critical of fat cats and greedy bankers and the message they send out. He points to one international executive who earned £92m last year and an investment banker who took home £60m.
“And that’s why people get upset about it,” says Mr Scott. “I’m sorry; I don’t see the point. Nobody needs that amount of money and it’s damaging to the rest of the economy and it’s damaging to people’s sense of fairness and fair play and effort.
“People see that and they think this is unfair, we haven’t got a chance, we’re not going to try.”
His own background is small business. His paternal grandfather owned three shops in Gateshead, which actually fell to his mother to run. But she didn’t want that for her son.
“My mother’s ambitions for me were ‘you don’t want to be running a shop, you want to be out there getting a proper profession – go and be a bank manager or an accountant’.
“I always found maths dead easy so I did maths and economics at university. I left university not really knowing what I wanted to do, except I didn’t want to be an accountant by that stage or a bank manager.”
A brief stint as a computer programmer – “I didn’t like it, it wasn’t right for me” – was followed by business librarianship then a move into business publishing with Headland Press in Hartlepool which was run by Gerry Smith.
“He was a remarkable bloke – he was probably the most driven person I’ve ever met. His son’s a performer now, it was funny.
“Gerry was an angry man, he was very, very driven, really bright, but also quite angry and he was always fulminating about his son being a bloody waster and not doing this and not doing that. And now he’s written a book, he’s a performer, he’s famous and he’s really proud of his son.”
He made the move to Tedco in a marketing and information role, and also ended up training and managing the enterprise agency’s workspace, working his way up to second in command.
When he arrived, Tedco had just seven staff, but it now runs business centres in Jarrow and South Shields and incubators at the Quadrus Centre in Boldon and WorkSpace in Berwick.
When the previous chief executive retired, Scott was one of 150 to apply for the job – and admits if he hadn’t got it, he would have had to reconsider his future.
“I recognised that it would have been quite difficult for me to stay if I hadn’t got it, psychologically,” he says.
“You prepare yourself to do the top job, if you don’t get the top job, it’s quite difficult then to take a step back.
“I feel really fortunate to have had the job that I’ve had. It’s the kind of retirement question about your working life - and I just consider myself really fortunate to have the opportunity to do a job that I ended up loving.
“There have been occasions I could have [started] a business and then I think why should I do that when I love doing what I’m doing so much?”
A Newcastle United fan and cinema-goer, Scott is also a keen diver – a hobby he discovered by chance.
“We had a holiday cancelled a few years ago and I said to my son ‘do you fancy going to the baths?’
“They were doing a try-dive session. He was only in the pool for 20 minutes and he came out and said ‘that’s the hobby I want to do’.
“He was 10 at the time and the guy who was doing the try-dive said he can’t do the diving exams until he’s 12. He can come to club and he’ll get the odd session with the diving gear on for the next couple of years.
“So I thought, ‘he’ll get sick of that’ – but he didn’t. I kept him company and shortly after his 12th birthday, he and I passed our diving, and I was in my mid-40s by that stage. I thought ‘in for a penny’ and I love it.
“It’s the most peaceful thing I’ve ever done, and the only thing I can compare it to is I was bought a glider flight for my 40th birthday and that feels like being in a warm bath to me.”
He has dived off the North East coast, the west of Scotland and has been to Egypt and Indonesia with his son. “It was amazing – there were sharks, turtles, really peculiar little critters lying around in the mud. Fantastic stuff.
“Our relationship through diving is something I really treasure as well. He wants a gap year next year and he’s got himself signed up for four months in Tobago doing some diving conservation work, so I’m hoping to get out there at Christmas to see him – a fortnight diving in warm sea.”
What car do you drive?
What's your favourite restaurant?
Locally, Café 21; further afield: Crab House Café, Weymouth; White House, LochAline and St John, London
Who or what makes you laugh?
Most things British from the Likely Lads and Hancock via Monty Python to Saxondale and Peep Show
What's your favourite book?
Murphy, Samuel Beckett
What was the last album you bought?
What's your ideal job, other than the one you've got?
I love the one I've got. Ideal would have to involve the bit where theory meets practice and involve people
If you had a talking parrot, what's the first thing you would teach it to say?
Let me out!
What's your greatest fear?
I agree with the saying, I think it was Roosevelt, 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself'
What's the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
It's better to be a go-giver than a go-getter
And the worst?
I can't remember the quote, but it amounted to handing over the decision making to the accountants: best done with them, but not by them.
What's your poison?
Red wine, preferably from Portugal
What newspapers do you read, other than The Journal?
FT and occasionally The Guardian, the Shields Gazette and the Berwick Advertiser
How much was your first pay packet and what was it for?
19s and 6d as a paper lad
How do you keep fit?
Gym, swim and dive
What's your most irritating habit?
How long have you got?
What's your biggest extravagance?
Which historical or fictional character do you most identify with or admire?
Admire – David Hume – generally reckoned to be our greatest philosopher, but also said to be warm and humane, unpretentious and both witty and serious.
Which four famous people would you most like to dine with?
Historically: David Hume, Henry Purcell, JWM Turner and Dennis Potter
Currently: Guy Garvey, Stephen Pinker, Penelope Cruz and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
How would you like to be remembered?
Doug Scott, chief executive, Tedco Ltd.
1976-1979 University of Durham, BA Economics
1979-1980 Computer programmer
1981-1986 Business librarian/information scientist
1987 Managing editor, Headland Press, business information publisher
1988-date, Tedco as chief executive since 1997.
2002 – Drafted One North East’s regional business start-up strategy; published as Everybody’s Business.
2010 – Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion lifetime achievement
Chairman of the North East Enterprise Agencies Ltd
Vice chairman of the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies
Serves on the boards of Customer First UK, United Kingdom Business Incubation, South Tyneside College, Groundwork Trust South Tyneside and Newcastle and of Money Answers South Tyneside.