By Gillian McKenzie
FOR Nick Livingstone, winning the Diageo Learning for Life Saltire Fellowship not only represents an “incredible opportunity”, it could not have come at a better time.
A year after he opened his quirky 7 Saints bar in a former traditional pub in Prestwick, he has grown the business to one which employs 18 staff and turns over almost £1 million – and he is eager to expand.
In fact, he has a clear plan of exactly how he intends to build his business, which began at the tail end of 2015 when he acquired the Eagle under a Star Pubs & Bars leasehold and transformed the traditional wet-led pub into bar and burger kitchen 7 Saints, which opened last June.
Targeting four outlets in the next three years, Nick aims to have seven or eight – including at least one freehold – by year five, and has aspirations to build a national estate of 15 or 20 over the next decade.
And while he has yet to decide on the style of the outlets – he reckons the 7 Saints brand has legs but he also has three or four other concepts in mind – Nick thinks the Saltire Fellowship will have a major impact on his expansion plans.
Launched in SLTN at the start of the year, the Diageo Learning for Life Saltire Fellowship gave budding entrepreneurs across the Scottish trade the chance to secure a fully-funded place on the six-month leadership programme, which was established in 2010 and is led by Entrepreneurial Scotland in partnership with Babson College in Boston and the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.
Following an intensive judging process, Nick was chosen as the successful candidate and will join a group of around 20 people from a range of sectors on the programme, which kicks off on September 4 and includes eight weeks at Babson College, time with the entrepreneurs and investors of Silicon Valley, and two weeks at the University of Strathclyde’s Business School.
Nick told SLTN he “can’t wait to get started”.
The fellowship will have a big influence on my expansion plans.
“It’s just an incredible opportunity; it was amazing to find out I had won,” he said.
“This trade can be quite insular so to see things from a different perspective will be hugely beneficial.
“One of the reasons I applied for the fellowship was to improve my commercial skills to expand.
“With 7 Saints we’re currently at year three projections and we’re only in year one.
“I think when you get to a certain level you need to be ready to grow quickly and I have a clear idea of how I want to do that.
“A lot depends on the fellowship; it may change the outcome of the development of the company.”
Beyond the physical growth of his company, Nick reckons the Diageo Saltire Fellowship will have a major impact on the development of his team.
Training and ‘staff empowerment’ have been at the heart of 7 Saints since its inception – a focus Nick reckons is a result of his own trade career path.
Like many, he started out with a part-time bar job when he was 18 and training to be an engineer; after a spell working in bars in Spain, Nick returned to Scotland and roles with G1 Group, Belhaven, Inventive Leisure and Eclectic Bars, progressing through the ranks with each.
Now with his own business, the focus is squarely on staff training and development.
“I think there can be a bit of a tick-box culture in hospitality now because of all the legislation,” he said.
“And I think the tick-box culture is stifling entrepreneurship.
“That’s the spirt I look for when recruiting staff. It’s all about empowering staff; if they are not empowered to make a decision on their own, I think it’s a barrier to them seeing how they can progress and pursue a career in hospitality.
“We have a huge focus on training and development. It’s the first step, I think, in people looking at this as a career.
“I think the fellowship will have a big influence on how I develop the business – on me personally and on my staff.”