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Inverness businessman Duncan MacPherson heeds gran’s advice

And now he's 'paddling his own canoe'.

Duncan MacPherson.
Duncan MacPherson. Image: DCT Media

Every week, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Duncan MacPherson, owner of Inverness-based construction and engineering support firm Hill-Tec.

How and why did you start in business?

From a young age I have always been intrigued by how things work, the nuts and bolts, and I really enjoy seeing things through from start to finish.  I started my first business was when I was 21, opening a sign and livery manufacturing company in my home town of Portree.

Sixteen years ago, I decided to study engineering at Inverness College (UHI Inverness), and this opened up a whole new world to me.  Straight from college I was fortunate to cut my teeth as a developing engineer with industry leaders such as Balfour Beatty and Global Energy Group. However, the desire to be self-employed and run my own business has never left me, hence Hill-Tec.

From a young age I have always been intrigued by how things work.”

Now in our third year, we are experts in civil engineering and technical support. We collaborate seamlessly with contractors, reducing project overruns and rework costs.

Our approach prioritises safety, mitigating incidents and ensuring compliance. By optimising design and execution, we enhance efficiency, saving both time and money.

This has become a very attractive offering as an outsourced cost for my clients.

How did you get to where you are today?

Hard work. I remember working on the Beauly-Denny (electricity network) project as a junior engineer. When everyone went home I would still be there learning from other engineering disciplines, whether that was geotechnical, electrical or environmental. I soaked it all up, and I am extremely grateful for the many opportunities and conversations people spent having with me.

Who helped you?

The engineers who sat listening to my many questions over the years and, more recently, the Royal Bank of Scotland Accelerator for keeping me focused on the bigger picture. The Federation of Small Businesses has also been a huge help when it comes to supporting me with my insurance – essential for day-to-day operations.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

My granny would always say “love many, trust few, learn to paddle your own canoe”.

This is something that has stuck with me and given me the motivation to push through the obstacles that get thrown my way.  It is great to have a strong network but in life I feel we are our own best chance. We have to do things ourselves for the growth to really happen.

What is your biggest mistake?

Everything happens when it is meant to happen, so mistakes come and go – but you just use them as part of the journey.

What is your greatest achievement?

From a business perspective, I really appreciate the many opportunities that are coming Hill-Tec’s way.  Some businesses wait years to be part of the conversations we have been having. If I was to see anything within the business as an achievement, this is it.

How is your business managing rapidly rising costs and what should governmeint do to help?

We are fortunate to be a very lean organisation. This not only helps us with our day-to-day costs but also helps us support our clients. Personally, if there was one thing I would request from government, it would be to make signposting for support easier.

This would include, for example, access to funding, start-up support and offering financial assistance to help young people with apprenticeship schemes.

What do you still hope to achieve?

Continued growth in the business and to invest in young people.

What do you do to relax?

I enjoy going to the gym or for a long walk with the dogs.

What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on TV?

I have just finished The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal (Seth Freeman) on audiobook.

One thing I have taken from this is, when communicating, it is sometimes more important to pay attention to what people don’t say than what they do say.

Porsche 911 991.2 GT3 RS and Porsche Cayman 718 GT4 at Nurburgring. Germany. 5 August 2023.; Shutterstock ID 2358045493; purchase_order: TE Winter ; job: PMs
Duncan Mac Pherson would love to get behind the wheel of a Porsche at the Nurburgring racing circuit in Germany. Image: Shutterstock

What do you waste your money on?

My guilty pleasure – Starbucks.

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

After hitting snooze several times, pour a coffee and get the dogs out before the day starts running away with me.

What do you drive and dream of driving?

Day-to-day it is the trusty Hill-Tec van, but the dream would be getting back to the Nurburgring (German motorsports complex) with a Porsche 911 GT3 RS.