Each week, we ask small businesses key questions.
Here we speak to Neil Macintyre, who owns and runs pipe tracking specialist Equal
Systems in Inverness.
How and why did you start in business?
I spent most of my childhood in Toronto, Canada, before returning to Inverness with my family when I was 16. I went to university in Glasgow, where I studied mathematics and computing before starting my first job, working for Oilfab Group in Aberdeen.
I worked with a team of programmers, eventually focusing on pipe tracking systems for both the oil and gas industries.
After 10 years I found myself to be in a department of one, undertaking work unrelated to anything else the company did. I felt it was time for a change and so left the company and went back to university to update my programming skills.
Oilfab Group had closed its computing department after I left and no longer supported the software, so my old clients followed me, and I went from being an employee developing and managing pipe-tracking systems for the company to becoming a self-employed man doing essentially the same work for myself.
I founded Equal Systems in Inverness in 1985 and it’s still going strong.
How did you get to where you are today?
Initially, it was being in the right place at the right time, with the right skills, attitude and, of course, contacts. In essence, I’m a software developer who specialises in pipe-tracking software for the pipeline industry.
When somebody fabricates a pipeline, they need a record of what they have built, including pipe and weld numbers, the welders and inspectors involved, repairs, re-welds, examinations of the welds, protective coating on the pipes and welds, noting where, when and by whom. It might sound simple, but there are numerous complications and I love problem-solving.
While Inverness-based, I travel the world as and when required to train locals on how to use my software. I’ve visited six of the world’s seven continents – and the beauty of being my own boss is that I can often stay on to explore for a few days after the work is done.
Who helped you?
Inverness and Nairn Enterprise was very helpful at the start, but I would not be doing this work without the loyal client base that has stood by me over the years.
My knowledge of both computing and pipelines has been seen as an advantage. I have also been a member of the Federation of Small Businesses for a number of years, and I find their help and support invaluable.
What has been your biggest mistake?
I had no idea that my old job would chase me after I left Aberdeen. I briefly worked for a second company but, ultimately, success only came when I set up on my own. I thought it was a big risk to begin with, but it was the best decision I ever made and I wish I had done it years earlier.
It is easy to think that if you need a job, then you also need a boss – but I quickly discovered that my favourite boss is me.
What is your greatest achievement?
Running an internationally recognised company from the comfort of my home in Inverness.
The Windows-based software belongs to my company and no one else, and it is used worldwide by some of the major players in the oil and gas industry.
If you were in power in government, what would you change?
Running my own company and also being in government? I’m not sure I would find the time so I’ll leave politics to the politicians.
What do you still hope to achieve?
To eventually find the right person to take over my systems when I am ready to retire, although that is not anytime soon.
What do you do to relax?
My drum kit in the back room helps relieve any frustrations, and I’m also learning to play the guitar. I find walking, cinema and music events are also interesting.
I enjoy the travel opportunities that I get from work – doing things like climbing Mount Fuji when I went to Japan and seeing penguins when I went to Punta Arenas in Chile.
What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on the TV?
I mostly read non-fiction, especially current affairs, travel and science.
What do you waste your money on?
My clients might be reading this, so for the record I never waste money.
How would your friends describe you?
Easy going and with a good sense of humour, I hope.
What would your enemies say about you?
What do you drive and dream of driving?
A VW Passat but I will probably replace it soon.