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Lena Wilson steps up

Douglas Fraser | 12:35 UK time, Saturday, 31 October 2009

"I intend to be as challenging as possible, in terms of biting back occasionally": the words of Lena Wilson, preparing for the Scottish public sector job that probably takes more flak than any other, at least outside elected office.

As chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, she's been around for 20 years in economic development agencies, including two years in the World Bank - memorable for being evacuated out of Mongolia and some alarming times in Central and South America, which has at least left her with fluency in Andean Spanish.

The last decade of scrutiny has made the chief executive's office an uncomfortable place to be as well. Jack Perry has not enjoyed the criticism that has come from Holyrood and the media, and his predecessor, Robert Crawford, quit because of the intrusion of the job's public profile into his family life.

Lena Wilson has risen through the ranks to become chief operating officer of Scottish Enterprise and head of its inward investment and exports division, Scottish Development International.

So she ought to know what to expect in the top job she takes on this Wednesday, and how best to "bite back occasionally". She's up for lots of "legitimate challenge", but hopes for less controversy.

"I'm here to listen, to our angriest customers and biggest critics, because that's the only way we'll develop. We shouldn't be sitting in a darkened room with a towel over our head thinking what business wants."

Under the spotlight

The controversy is under way already, over a salary higher than that of the Prime Minister, and the same level as Jack Perry, despite Scottish Enterprise being much smaller than the agency he took on six years ago: no careers service, a sharply reduced budget, more focussed responsibilities and no local enterprise companies.

That £200,000 salary was not for her, but for the board to set independently, she told me in an interview to be broadcast this weekend.

But don't judge a chief executive by the extent of her remit: "Size of budget is a factor, but for me, it's not the determinant factor. It depends on the weight of the responsibility the chief executive has to carry".

Wilson started life in the Partick area of Glasgow, and grew up in East Kilbride, where her father worked at Rolls-Royce.

In the interview, she talks (and she's one very good talker) about what she brings to the job that might be different from her predecessor: "The fact that I'm me means I'll do it differently, with more focus, more clarity, more pace and more customer engagement". She goes back repeatedly to stress that customer engagement:

Yet having been in public sector agencies for 20 years, does she fulfil the remit of Scottish Enterprise to bring a business focus and ethos into government's role in the economy? It was a question that featured in her job interview as well:

"In the past few years, I've been working exclusively with businesses. I get the opportunity to be in the boardrooms of top companies all over the world, understand where they're going, understand their strategies, have an in-depth understanding of their sectors. I am moving in business circles and have a wider experience than some people in business."

You can hear more about her hopes for the Scottish economy and for Scottish Enterprise's role (though she was less willing to talk about her enthusiasm for rock music) on The Business on Radio Scotland. That's at 1000 GMT on Sunday 1 November, and also available by podcast.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Yep... 20 years in public sector agencies and almost no real business experience. That this is the best that Scottish Enterprise could do should tell us a lot about this organisation and its real benefit to the Scottish economy.

  • Comment number 2.

    I understand SE searched globally to fill this challenging but controversial post but Lena Wilson, come on. I mean out of the entire pool of candidates, they picked Lena Wilson. We will never know the list of candidates who were interviewed but I see this appointment as a cautious and nervous one. SE has taken a massive political battering over recent years, and I think the message they are trying to send is that SE is going back to basics, and have put their faith in somebody who has been with the organisation for 20 odd years.I fear that at a time when we need innovative solutions to problems created by the financial crisis, SE is just seeking to preserve the status quo with the Lena Wilson appointment. Would SE not have been better off appointing somebody who has successfully taken an organisation through a dramatic change process? Can she play the political game that SE has turned into? Only time will tell.

  • Comment number 3.

    Another grossly overpaid and overrated product of the Scottish Enterprise ladder, this wondrous organisation which has over the years squandered a fortune of taxpayers money on soon to fail mickey mouse companies and two man sandwich factories. Their success in creating jobs, seems to be confined to expanding their own operation and that of the staffing levels of local government. It is doubtful , if there is , anywhere in Scotland , a sizeable business of any kind which employs a significant number of people on reasonable salaries, which owes its existence to SE. They may have successfully kept some questionaable businesses in being briefly , but creating viable new business is something they have never been guilty of.

 

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