Bill reveals secrets of reinvention and respect

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While 2020 has been an ‘annus horribilis’ for most businesses, there are some leaders who come alive in a crisis and revel in overcoming huge problems. Bill Scott OBE is one such person. 

The hugely respected Wilton Engineering CEO has spent his career adapting to situations which would have even the strongest business leader reaching for the ejector button!

“I don’t have bad days because when things go wrong, I actually quite enjoy it,” Bill admitted to Tees Business executive editor Dave Allan on our weekly Talking Business programme.

“When people come to me with a crisis, I see it as something to get my teeth into. It’s a challenge.” 

Bill has certainly had his fair share of challenges over the years, none more so sniffing out a downturn in the oil and gas industry and having to shift the company trajectory in double quick time. 

“We were the first company to identify that there’d be a downturn in the industry,” says Bill.

“I remember I was sat at a dinner in Aberdeen with the chief execs from all the big oil operators– BP, Shell etcera – and something wasn’t quite right.

“They looked very down and the discussion was deep and depressing. I looked at their body language and I said to myself, ‘This doesn’t look good’.

“I immediately cancelled my fight the next day and booked onto a five-hour train journey home instead. I sat there with a notebook working out what I’d just heard, what I’d just seen. 

“I got back and explained to my senior management team that I felt in my heart we were heading towards the biggest crash oil and gas has ever seen. I knew we had to get out before it took the company with it.”

It was a calculated risk to jump ship from oil and gas into the offshore wind industry, but it was one that worked out – at a price.

Wilton Engineering’s 400-strong workforce had to be cut to just 20.

“We had to let people go to save the company,” explained Bill. “Though we treated staff with the utmost respect and many have since come back.”

The way which he treats his colleagues says a lot about Middlesbrough-born Bill and is perhaps the secret to much of his success – and certainly his reputation.

“I’d say to anyone going into business – get rid of the ‘them and us’. Treat people with respect. Talk to them, engage with them. Make sure you’re communicating at all times. You ask, don’t tell. You use the words ‘Can you?’, ‘Will you?’ and ‘Would you mind?’

“Treat them as friends because if people enjoy their work it’s better for everyone.”

The works which he has provided for the region, along with his charitable deeds earned bill an OBE for services to Teesside in 2019, something which continues to make him feel emotional.

“I was really choked,” he admitted. 

He’s also remained as positive as ever during a difficult 2020, steering Wilton Engineering into yet another direction, though he remains tight lipped about the details.

“It’s for defence, but more than that I can’t say, otherwise I will have to kill you,” he laughs.