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Meet the Highland businessman shocked by petrol prices up to 10 times more than it costs to power his Tesla

Ewan MacGregor.
Ewan MacGregor.

Every Monday, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Ewan MacGregor, of Nairn firm Helica (Scotland).

How and why did you start in business?

Originally from Glasgow, where I met my wife, Satinder, we moved to the Highlands with our baby, Robbie, in 2003. I initially worked as a project manager for a large Highlands/Moray construction firm and Satinder as a consultant physician at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness – she’s still there.

In 2006, when Satinder went back to work after our second child, Kiran, was born, we hit a problem – we had no family around to help with childcare. The obvious answer was for me to start my own business, one that would give me flexibility, so I set up MacGregor Project Services.

Ewan MacGregor on site.
How did you get to where you are today?

With MacGregor Project Services, I was a sole trader, helping smaller contractors and developers manage and coordinate their construction projects.

An opportunity then arose to join a local quantity surveying/project management firm.

I worked there for a spell but soon realised I preferred working for myself, setting my own agenda and taking my own business decisions. We parted on good terms and I set up Helica (Scotland) in 2012.

Based in Nairn but working throughout Scotland, Helica provides clerk of works, CDM (construction design/management health and safety regulations) advisor, principal designer and project manager services to a wide range of designers and other property clients.

Who helped you?

Satinder – her support, patience and income gave me the essential space I needed to establish Helica.

I’m also very grateful to our loyal clients, who repeatedly engage our services. We always try to go above and beyond for our customers, and they seem to appreciate it and stay with us.

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

“Assumption is the parent of all screw-ups”. In other words, never assume that what you think will happen will happen, unless you are clear about what you need/want to be done.

I also make use of the great information, advice and guidance available in the members’ area of the Federation of Small Businesses’ website.

What is your biggest mistake?

Employing the wrong person. They seemed to be the right person when we offered them a position, but turned out not to be.

What is your greatest achievement?

Helica (Scotland) turned 10 in March, so that is one achievement, while maintaining a loyal client base is another. Until this year I was the treasurer of the annual Highland construction and property dinner. Over the years we’ve raised £70,000 to £80,000 for charity at the annual dinners.

If you were in power in government, what would you change?

What’s happened to honour, honesty, and humility in modern politics? I was listening to a podcast about the Falklands War and was struck the then foreign secretary, Lord Carrington, resigned because he took full responsibility for the Foreign Office’s failure to see the invasion coming. So different to all the denials, buck-dodging and back-stabbing today.

What do you still hope to achieve?

To grow carefully and organically in the central belt. We’ve just completed a clerk of works role on a large private apartment project in Edinburgh, and are currently working as principal designer with the mechanical and electrical systems designer on several school projects in the Glasgow area.

Mr MacGregor at one of Helica’s recent housing projects – Raining’s Stairs in Inverness.
What do you do to relax?

Get out and about on my bicycle. Slogging up hills to get to the back of beyond is a fantastic way to clear the mind.

I also love the physical act of building stuff myself. I’ve just completed a garden room at the back of the house, and am currently re-laying paths and paving at the side.

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

I’m re-reading Ian M Banks’ Culture novels – I’m on Look to Windward at the moment. For holiday reading I’ve got Shuggie Bain (Douglas Stuart) and Butler to the World: How Britain Became the Servant of Tycoons, Tax Dodgers, Kleptocrats and Criminals (Oliver Bullough) – nothing too heavy for the poolside.

When I watch TV it’s generally travel or food shows, science and technology documentaries or current affairs programmes. I also like watching people making stuff – or Sandy Munro dismantling stuff – on YouTube.

What do you waste your money on?

Petrol. I’ve been driving electric vehicles (EVs) for more than three years, but a forklift recently reversed into my Tesla and my insurance company can’t source an EV courtesy car. I’m paying ridiculous prices for petrol – seven to 10 times more than my Tesla would cost to charge.

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

Make Satinder a coffee, then Wordle – hopefully using fewer lines than her.

What do you drive and dream of driving?

I normally drive my Tesla but await the day when the Rivian R1T (electric truck) arrives in the UK.