We talk to the Susan Deacon, IoD Scotland chair (also the assistant principal of external relations and a professorial fellow at the University of Edinburgh), about start-ups, innovation and economic growth
Why are you proud to represent the IoD?
I am very proud to represent an organisation which brings together such a range of accomplished and committed professionals – people who, through their work as directors and entrepreneurs, are building successful businesses and organisations and so are making a vital contribution to building the economy. I am passionate about the importance of strong leadership and good governance so to represent an organisation which is committed to promoting and developing these aims is a real privilege.
The IoD in Scotland has a long and proud track record of supporting, developing and giving a voice to Scotland’s business leaders and I am very proud to be playing a part in helping to lead IoD Scotland in this next important phase of our development.
What is the IoD’s role to business leaders in Scotland?
In a nutshell: connectivity, influence, personal and professional development. Of course each individual business leader has their own needs and interests, and that’s why I believe it is essential that we strive constantly to offer a range of activities, events, products, services and benefits to meet those diverse individual needs.
IoD Scotland has a number of distinctive partnerships, activities and member benefits. We also have members right across the country and are well networked into Scottish business and public life. This means we can connect people, businesses and ideas and can shape and influence policy and practice in a range of different ways. That’s important because Scotland is an increasingly divergent landscape, so having a distinctive Scottish approach is critical to ensuring relevance and impact. Alongside that we are also an integral part of the IoD at UK level and so can also offer access to all the IoD's wider benefits – information, advice, influence and connectivity.
Who do you represent?
IoD Scotland is a growing organisation. We have almost 2,000 members and have ambitions to go well beyond that in the coming years. Our members are drawn from across virtually all sectors and industries in Scotland – from start-ups and SMEs through to major global corporates, as well as leaders in government, charities and social enterprise. We have a high proportion of female members, an active Young Directors’ Forum (YDF) and a rich mix of directors in both executive and non-executive roles. I am determined to maintain and grow this diversity, not just for its own sake, but because it enables us to extend our reach and impact right across Scotland’s business leadership community and to help foster the learning and collaboration which is critical to Scotland’s continued success and economic growth.
Which sectors would you like to attract?
There are a number of sectors which are key to the Scottish economy and where Scotland punches above its weight on the world stage – financial services, biomedical science, digital, renewables, oil and gas, and food and drink, to name but some. We have members across all those sectors and I am keen that we build on that. Scotland also has an exceptionally vibrant start-up community and a long tradition of innovation and entrepreneurialism. I think there is enormous potential to develop our offer to business start-ups and so help them to develop good practice in directorship and governance as they grow their businesses.
Alongside that, I am keen that we continue to strengthen our links and to grow our membership across a range of major corporates, many of whom we have existing partnerships and relationships with. We also have a growing number of members in senior executive and non-executive roles in the public and third sector – and have developed a range of training and support for people taking up public appointments and charitable trustee roles.
In short, we want to continue to support the development of strong leadership and good governance across all of Scotland’s boardrooms and to work with both the Scottish and UK governments to foster a climate that supports enterprise, innovation and economic growth.
What is so unique about Scotland?
Scotland is a proud nation with a strong cultural heritage, distinctive identity and rich history of enterprise, innovation and ideas. From the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century to the present day, Scotland has punched above its weight in the world. Through ideas, intellectual and scientific advancement and innovation we have helped produce many of the people and ideas that have, quite literally, shaped the world.
Our institutional landscape has always been different from the rest of the UK – for example, we have always had separate legal, local government and education systems. Since the creation of the Scottish parliament in 1999, however, Scotland has become ever more distinct and, with the most recent transference of powers, now has one of the most devolved parliaments not only in the UK but also in the world. This has enormous implications for business and enterprise in Scotland and, in turn, for the IoD.
A key part of the work of IoD Scotland will be to reflect and engage with that distinctive Scottish ‘ecosystem’, to help build understanding across the IoD about how Scotland operates and, more generally, to work with colleagues right across the IoD to help our organisation to adapt to, and remain relevant in, an increasingly devolved UK.
What does Scotland offer business leaders?
In no small part due to the immense efforts of our executive director and his small, energetic and committed team of staff – as well as a terrific volunteer effort across the country – IoD Scotland offers an extensive array of activities, events and influence. We have for many years offered a wide range of director and board development programmes, several in partnership with, or on behalf of, other organisations, which are a key part of our contribution to effective directorship and good governance here in Scotland.
Our branches are absolutely critical – and I pay tribute to our branch chairs and committees for their immense efforts and contribution. We have six branches led by teams of committed volunteers who actively develop and promote the IoD within their local region including organising a wide range of events and networking opportunities.
At national level, the IoD Scotland Annual Conference and Dinner and our Director of the Year Awards are key events which bring together much of what is best in the Scottish business community. Through our executive director and staff, the Scotland committee and our wider array of volunteer members, we are are embedded in Scottish business and public life, and have close working relationships with government, policymakers and an array of other business and leadership organisations across the country
Please tell me about something IoD Scotland has done in the past year that you are particularly proud of?
We have just moved into new premises in Edinburgh, right at the heart of the capital’s business and financial community. This move has been a long time in the making and is a game-changer for the IoD in Scotland. It gives the organisation the presence and positioning which it needs and deserves as well as facilities which will enable us to greatly expand and develop our range of activities, events and services to members. It also provides a tremendous base for IoD members – from right across the UK – to work and meet when in Edinburgh. I am determined that we exploit the potential of this development to take IoD Scotland on to the next level in terms of our membership, activity and reach.
What are you most looking forward to, as IoD Scotland chair, in the next 12 months?
This next year will be both an opportunity and a challenge for IoD Scotland. As more decision-making and economic powers are devolved to Scotland, it will be important that we step up to the plate in terms of our relevance and impact. Our recent office move gives us an important platform to do that as part of a wider programme of growth and development. My ambition is that we cement IoD Scotland’s role as a gathering place for Scotland’s leadership community, where we can create connectivity, develop fresh thinking and ideas, and support individuals to do more and to do better. The IoD’s commitment to ‘better directors, better business and a better economy’ to me sums it up. If IoD Scotland can help translate that rhetoric to reality then I’ll be happy.
Finally, what's your personal business ethos or who do you admire as a business leader?
To me, authenticity, integrity, ambition and effort go hand-in-hand with vision, values and direction as being the hallmarks of great leadership – whether in business or public life. I am drawn to people who are driven, thoughtful and committed and who are willing to challenge themselves and others to constantly strive to do more and to do better. I’m also passionate about the importance of working across boundaries and sectoral interests and have devoted a large part of my life to driving collaborative effort – to me this is key to delivering economic growth and social change in a complex and interconnected 21st-century world. The former US president, Harry S Truman, once said: “It’s amazing what you can achieve if you don’t care who claims the credit.” I think that’s a powerful statement and, in my experience, really does ring true.