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Q & A with BoB Keiller, chair of Scottish Enterprise and his 10 steps from Good to Great

17 Jul 2017
Bob Keiller, IoD Scotland

Behind the desk - Bob Keiller: 10 steps from Good to Great

Name: Bob Keiller
Company:Scottish Enterprise
Career history:
1986-90 BP
1990-93 TFCW Consultants
1993-2002 Amerada Hess
2002-06 Director Halliburton (led MBO to create PSN in 2006)  
2006-2011 CEO, PSN (sale of PSN to Wood Group)
2011-2015 Wood Group director/CEO 
2016-date Chairman Scottish Enterprise
Short overview of organisation:
Scotland’s national economic development agency. We aim to deliver a significant, lasting effect on the Scottish economy. Our role is to help identify and exploit the best opportunities for economic growth. 
We support ambitious Scottish companies to compete within the global marketplace and help build Scotland’s globally competitive sectors. We also work with a range of partners in the public and private sectors to attract new investment to Scotland and to help create a world-class business environment.

Q: What is the greatest recurring challenge you come across in your role, and what’s your strategy for dealing with it?
A: I often talk to leaders who are unsure about the ‘next step’ for their organisation. By asking lots of ‘daft laddie’ questions I can help them to understand what they CAN do rather than what they can’t.

Q: Who, or what, drives you or inspires you?
A: I get great satisfaction from seeing people get on in life and in business and so want to help and inspire others where I can. Many people have helped me and I want to give something back in a way that makes a difference. I work with business incubators, SMEs, scale-up companies, charities and public sector organisations by mentoring, coaching, training and hosting workshops and talks about four days a week.

Q: What makes a good leader great?
A: Terms like “good” and “great” are subjective – in business it has taken me some time to try and distill the factors that I feel can make a leader effective. When I am doing talks on leadership they usually cover some of the ten areas listed below.

  • Purpose: Having a clear purpose, clearly defined values and a compelling strategy
  • Culture: Creating a culture that is based on the agreed values and principles. Role-modelling the required behaviours.
  • Perceptiveness: Looking for, seeking out and seeing – the bigger picture, from multiple viewpoints, the historical perspective, for connections and patterns
  • Communication: Managing all your stakeholder relationships – communication is hard work
  • Change: Leading change – taking hearts and minds with you is all important.
  • Customers: Focusing obsessively on customers
  • Trust: Earning Trust – how do you do this?
  • Teams: Building great teams
  • Time: Controlling your time
  • Storytelling: The power of business storytelling

Q: Have you had a mentor, and what did he/she add to your development?
A:I have had many mentors, coaches and unpaid advisors over many years who have helped me in many ways. One taught me the benefit of seeing issues from multiple angles, another helped me to understand how to lead an organisation through a downturn while another helped me realise that you can accelerate the development of great teams.

Q:What is the ‘next big thing’ that will transform your sector?  
A: Digitisation will change our world – and it has just begun. Many jobs we need today will disappear while many new, as-yet undefined, jobs will be needed. This will be disruptive and will present threats and opportunities.

Q: What leadership advice would you give your younger self?
A: It’s all about people and teams. Be good at your job, sure, but being great with people, the so-called ‘soft skills’, are actually the hard ones that make the biggest difference.
Improve your presentation skills – work hard to make every presentation you deliver memorable and compelling. Present with passion – show you care for the subject matter!

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0131 557 5488


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