Brian Williamson

HND in Engineering Management 1976

CEO at Jumpstart


We caught up with GCU graduate, Honorary Graduate and entrepreneur Brian Williamson at his graduation ceremony to hear more about his time as a student and career as a successful entrepreneur. 

What made you choose GCU and your specific course?

My dad was a foundry-man in Weir Pumps (WPL) and therefore engineering was in my family. I was interviewed by WPL and they suggested a Higher National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. I actually went to Falkirk Technical college to start the course and on the morning I arrived I was told there were only two students and I would have to go elsewhere as the course was cancelled. They said I could either go to Glasgow or Napier. I got on a train to Glasgow and before we knew it we were in class at GCU. I call it my wonderful accident. 

Can you tell me more about your current role?

I am an entrepreneur who invests in businesses and gets them to where they want to go at which point I usually exit and move to the next one. I have almost exclusively had more than one business at any point in time. So I have three roles at the moment.

I am the CEO of Jumpstart which is a business I met late 2008 a few months after they started trading. It was a couple of guys in an attic flat with a Smeg fridge and a coffee machine and little else. Despite having little experience,  no money and being at the start of a deep recession I really like the business and invested time effort and money. Within 2 years and from 2010 to 2013 Jumpstart was the fastest growing SME in Scotland. In 2013 we secured investment in the business valuing it at £12m which was a fantastic achievement considering its humble beginnings. My job is almost finished at my award winning company and it is time to hand over the reigns to a new CEO which will happen in 2017.

My second role is Chairman of Brightwork a  recruitment business. In 2006 I was asked to join the Board as Chairman to help the management team buy a division with sales of £5m of a larger recruitment company. Again I invested time effort and money and now this business has sales of £35m, seven fold what it was at the outset. Brightwork is an award winning business which now employs around 2000 temporary workers.

21 years ago I started a consultancy business called Tiger Industries which is a vehicle for helping other businesses achieve their potential. This is now owned and run by my wife and she has become my most inspirational boss of my whole career coaching and mentoring me in so many ways. Tiger Industries currently works with two companies with high growth potential and is in the enviable position of having a waiting list.

What advice would you give to current students and new graduates?

If you believe you can or you believe you can't…you are probably right. My advice is that anything is possible and dreaming of what you can be is an important part of making what can be…BE.  

If business will be your passion my advice is to focus on how to create relationships which is one key element of business together with understanding how other businesses work. Curiosity helps you achieve both.

Read more about Brian here

What are your memories of University?  Were you involved in any clubs or societies?

It is strange going to a student environment when you are used to a school one. You are rocketed into maturity making decisions about going to lectures or not. It did have a real maturing effect on me. In my second year the bar was opened and this was a great addition as a place to meet other students.

I played basketball for GCU which was in the fourth division at the time. I also played for a first division team as well which was, as you can suspect not allowed but I thought no one would notice. After a few games I was the top scorer because I was used to playing against much better competition. That got me a four match ban. However the referee that was on the last game I played for GCU was also the team selector for the Scottish junior team. That exposure was well worth as soon after I was selected to play for Scotland Junior men basketball team. I always say it was my indiscretion that got me my international cap.

How has your career progressed since graduation? Did your qualification aid you?
The qualification meant I had my pay increased by £1 per week . This was in 1976 and even then it seemed a paltry sum however the qualification got me onto the WPL company graduate programme which meant I was trained for management. I became the youngest ever manager in the history of WPL at the time when I took over the Stock Control department at the age of 21. I then moved to look after 200 welders as the superintendent at the age of 22. So the qualification set my career on a pretty fast upward curve. I always saw the qualification as a door opener and secured my first MD job at the age of 26. Thereafter I shaped my CV to get a bigger and better job every two to three years until at the ripe old age of 38 I became an entrepreneur. That was a bit like moving from the monorail with a great view of life to the roller coaster full of ups and downs. Since then I have never looked back and I am now in my 35th year of running companies at Board level. I look back and think that I could have taken the short term view and decided the extra £1 a week was not worth it but boy have I been paid many times over.

What is your greatest professional achievement?

I have done so many things in life and won awards both with my companies and personally.I was proud when I secured a role as MD at the age of 26 and some of the great growth stories over the years each one with its own unique story. I once bought into a business with 450 employees and shortly after buying into it we lost a major contract and it got into difficulty. I was twice advised by insolvency practitioners I would never be trade out of the situation and I should just let the business go into administration. This would have meant the loss of 450 jobs so I worked my socks off to find a solution and eventually not only did I get the business out of trouble we became debt free…I was proud of that.  

However I view my greatest personal achievement (so far) happened in 2016 when I received a life time achievement award from an entrepreneurial organisation, WeDo entrepreneurs, in recognition of my outstanding contribution to entrepreneurship. it is great to get such an award from and organisation you admire and part of your peer group however I am working on how i can be the first person to secure two life time achievement awards in the same life, watch this space.

What are your future plans, both professionally and personally?

My life took a turn on 29th July 2015 when I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a particularly hard time and there is no doubt without my wife and her 24/7 care I would not be here today,  After my operation and during my chemotherapy I had a lot of time to reflect of what I wanted in life. My wife and I agreed things had to change with one common theme from both of us and that was to do more of what I enjoyed most. So I embarked upon to a plan to recruit a new CEO in Jumpstart to allow me more time…more time to get involved with other businesses. Why do this at the age of 60 when my business life has given me a very nice life and I could easily retire? The reason is that I do not see this as work, I see building and growing businesses as fun. Although eternal life is not possible there is a chance, in some small way, I can live in eternity through the knowledge and wisdom and I pass on the generations behind me.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
My family play a large part of my life so spending as much time with my wife, my two daughters, my granddaughter is a priority moving forward. This will be further enhanced in June 2017 because my eldest daughter is pregnant with twins…I am so excited about that.

I also play golf at Loch Lomond golf club which has a very special place in my heart. I have two dogs, Westies called Wallace and Findlay and I love walking with them.

With what times left…I love spending time with friends

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