Can you tell me a bit about yourself and a brief history of your career?
I am long-time married to Karen, who is also my partner in our business. We have two boys, who are both grown up now and working within the business. Lee graduated at Herriot Watt, and has just recently returned from a two year sabbaticals traveling where he reached the delights of the far East, Australia and New Zealand. Jack has just this year graduated and is about to go traveling too – following in the footsteps of his brother.
I was educated at what was previously Ravenspark Academy in Irvine, now known as Irvine Royal Academy. I left school with a handful of ‘O levels’ and took up an apprenticeship in engineering. I attended Kilmarnock College, went onto Galashiels College in the borders then Caledonian University in Glasgow.
I worked as an engineer for about 10 years and then decided on a career change (as did Karen, who worked locally in travel). We joined Whitbread PLC as a trainee management couple and developed with them, opening and operating hotels and restaurants from Yorkshire to Aberdeenshire, Edinburgh, Glasgow and back to Ayrshire. We learned all aspect of hotel, restaurant and pub management. I then branched out into human resource, training, personnel and area management.
In the late nineties we decided to break out on our own and started our hospitality business, SimpsInns. The Old Loans Inn near Troon was our first property, followed by The Gailes and the rest followed. We have grown, expanded and diversified into hotels, restaurants, weddings, conferencing and banqueting and golf and leisure. All of our businesses are here, in Ayrshire.
Why did you decide to get involved with the Ayrshire College Foundation?
I was approached by John Rainey, who was the Chair of The Ayrshire College Foundation. John had been in conversation with Willie Mackie, the current chair of the Board of Management at Ayrshire College and he had suggested I may be interested in getting involved. Willie and I had worked on previous initiatives like Taste Ayrshire and the North Ayrshire Regeneration Board. I was very naive to the role and purpose of the Foundation but the more I looked into it, the more interested I became. It is a great opportunity to contribute, give something back and be part of an incredible new plan to have some of the best college facilities in Scotland. I am still in awe of the fabulous projects that have been undertaken and delivered with outstanding results. These are a great credit to the College management team and staff and not forgetting some amazing contribution from the students themselves.
Are you looking forward to this year’s Mission Discovery? What’s the highlight for you?
I can’t wait, if it is half as good as the past years, it will still be amazing and if history tells a story it’s looking to be twice as good as last year! Without a doubt the highlight is bringing together the school pupils and giving them the opportunity to interact and hear directly from astronauts and scientist from NASA. What an opportunity - to be inspired by people who have worked hard and reached the pinnacle in their chosen career! Not forgetting the fabulous competition to design a mission patch that could potentially end up in the far reaches of outer space! On a more ‘down to earth’ note, the collaboration between scientist, astronauts, students, teachers, private business and public sector is inspiring. I love the ‘can do’ attitude displayed from all involved throughout the week.
I understand the Foundation has now provided funding for various projects at Ayrshire College as part of the Innovation Fund, what advice would you give to anyone else thinking of applying to the Innovation Fund?
Everything starts with a great idea. If you are passionate and committed, go for it. Always remember to do your research, take advice and be prepared for challenges. Ask yourself, can you convince and demonstrate to others your project’s potential to succeed and if someone brought it to you, would you invest?
Reflecting on the achievements of the Ayrshire College Foundation, what are you most proud of?
I have enjoyed working with an amazing range of people from different disciplines, with a great focus and common goal. It is fantastic and fascinating to hear different perspectives on projects and then coming together in unity for the better good. Also, reflecting on the completed development and upgrades of student facilities that have been carried out across the various campuses, we now have an incredible resource across all the Ayrshire College campuses.