The importance of a single pine tree and understanding the faraway cows

Bob Keiller
Bob Keiller

The man hailed by Sir Tom Hunter as “the best business leader I’ve ever come across”, has revealed one secret of his success: the humble Scots pine tree.

Speaking on the Go Radio Business Show, Bob Keiller CBE described how he steered the creation of PSN by completing a multi-million pound management buyout in 2006.

“We started thinking about how we raise the money and explain what this business opportunity is to people who don’t know the business, don’t know me, don’t know the sector. So I told them a story about having the opportunity to take a small Scots pine from the middle of a forest of giant redwood trees . . . and letting it grow in some space.

“When we went to refund the finance, distribute it, I told the same story to a gathering of 120 people down in London. And they’re all sitting with their eyes closed, imagining themselves now walking through a forest of giant redwood trees . . . and I’m thinking: ‘I really hope they get this!’.”

Sir Tom was keen to discover where Keiller had found his stride. He asked the Borders-born businessman: “How do you build your team? How do you get the talent to do that?”

Keiller recalled: “Well, I remember Alasdair Gardner from the Bank of Scotland standing with a flip chart and it was like that scene from Father Ted where Ted is explaining to Dougal the principle of perspective using toy cows. And he is saying: ‘No, Dougal, these are small, but the ones out there are far away!’

“That’s what it was like for me. I was asking: ‘What do you mean by mezzanine finance? What is it? What do you mean by leverage?

“I was picking up on all the different things until I finally got it. So you’re borrowing that money and that money’s at risk and that money’s not at risk. I’ve got it sorted out now but the language was completely opaque to me at the time.”

In the years since, Keiller has gone on to set up the consultancy AB15 to give entrepreneurs access to his experience. Sir Tom told him: “Thanks for giving back to entrepreneurs. You do a great job. It’s unsung but it’s absolutely appreciated.”