Taking the lead
New SELECT President Alistair Grant discusses 40 years in the industry and his hopes for the future
Tell us a bit about your business
Alistair Grant Electrical is a small family-run business based in Lhanbryde, Moray, that prides itself on its great reputation for quality work. We take on a wide range of domestic work for new builds, renovations and extensions as well as electrical contracting for light industrial and agricultural projects.
My son Stephen works with me as an electrician and my wife Pauline looks after our books. We’ve also got Kieran, a young journeyman who has just passed his FICA qualification, and Greg, an apprentice who is well into his first year of work.
What interested you originally in a career as an electrician?
I was always interested in doing something practical and my older brother had done an apprenticeship in joinery and told me that an electrical contractor he was working with on a project was looking to take on an apprentice. I had turned 15 in February 1972, and when I finished my O Levels at school in May I immediately signed up for the apprenticeship. I was the last of the 15-year-old apprentices, as the next year they changed the age to 16 before you could join a scheme. However, this worked against me as when I turned 16 the boss said that was when my apprenticeship started and not when I joined! I got my grade card in 1976 and then my approved card in 1979.
When did you decide to go it alone with your own Company?
My brother’s joinery business often used the company I worked for on the electrical side of his projects. As I was getting a good reputation, his clients often asked specifically for me on their projects so my brother suggested I could go it alone and he would have work for me while I got established. It was 1982 when I started my company and the economy seemed to be at rock bottom. I remember going to my accountant and he said: “Don’t worry it can’t get any worse, the only way is up!” I took the plunge and more than 40 years later I’m still going.
“I remember going to my accountant and he said: ‘Don’t worry it can’t get any worse, the only way is up!’ I took the plunge and more than 40 years later I’m still going”
What have you enjoyed about your career?
I would say that I’m motivated more by doing a great job for my customers rather than the money; of course, the money helps, but I’m very proud of the good reputation we have built that brings customers back and new customers in. We also won the SELECT Best Delivery of Customer Service Award in 2016 – quite a coup for a wee business in the North East.
How did you get involved with SELECT?
When I started my company, I joined one organisation and they used to send a real old-school stickler-for-the-rules engineer who used to scare me every time he came to check my work. But when he retired, the new engineer wasn’t really able to answer my technical questions with any degree of confidence. When a representative from SELECT called me to explain what they did, and about their technical helpline in particular, then I was really interested.
I joined in 1999 and it was honestly the best move I ever made.
I went to the local SELECT meetings in Inverness regularly as it was a great way of networking with other electricians and discussing issues about work – it was terrific. After a few years they suggested I run for Chairman of the Inverness and North of Scotland Branch, which I was initially not keen on just because I was running my own business, but after a while I became Vice Chair and then eventually became Chair for three years.
Then one day Managing Director Alan Wilson phoned me to say they were looking for new people to come through the ranks, particularly for the Depute Vice President roles.
I spoke to my wife and son about this and they said go for it. I took up the role as one of the two Depute Vice Presidents and moved up to Vice President in 2020 and now take on the Presidency for two years.
What are you hoping to do as President?
One of my main ambitions is to push forward the campaign for protection of title for electricians. We’ve got lots of politicians signed up, agreeing with us that it’s not safe to undertake electrical work if you are not a qualified electrician, but there seems to be some foot dragging on the Scottish Government’s side of things, so we need to keep pushing.
I’m also interested in working with the colleges to promote apprenticeships as I’ve had 15 apprentices through my company in my time and it is so important to nurture new talent for our industry. I would also like to get more involved with the various SELECT committees that look at changes in regulations. I don’t like to sit still so I’m happy to do whatever’s needed.
How do you unwind from the pressures of running a business?
I used to play guitar and sing in a four-piece band called Tequila Sunrise for 15 years. We were pretty popular in the local area playing all kinds of gigs from weddings and parties to social events of local clubs I stopped it about 25 years ago as I was getting more involved in football training. It started with my son at school when he was playing in the youth team in the North of Scotland league and they wanted a hand with coaching. We were pretty successful, winning three cups in four years, and then Elgin City FC asked if I could help them with their youth team. I worked with them for three years and when we got into the Scottish League I stayed for another three years.
I was going to retire from coaching but Buckie Thistle FC approached me and I worked with their youth team for six years. Just when I was about to stop, Elgin City persuaded me to help them again. In the end, I was a youth team coach for 18 years. I still love my football and I recently joined the over-50s walking football. As a lifelong Chelsea fan, I’ve also brainwashed my wee five-year-old granddaughter into following the Blues! As I said before, I don’t like to be sitting still too long!