What’s been our biggest challenges have also been our biggest successes...

Keith Cockburn is the Director of Ivanhoe Caledonian, a print and packaging company based in Edinburgh. Ivanhoe Caledonian formed as a merged company in 2017 - uniting Ivanhoe and Caledonian together.

Keith recently completed our eVolve programme last month and reflects on being the last remaining printer in Edinburgh; their ambitious plans to double in size by 2023; the importance of attracting new talent and aspiring to be the go-to food and drinks packaging printer in Scotland.


ES: Tell us about Ivanhoe Caledonian - what do you do?

K.C: “We used to be a commercial printer producing work for financial services, various NGOs and Government bodies. But, we started getting into printed packaging so now we’re moving into food and drink packaging which is really our big growth sector.

Obviously, commercial printing has changed quite a bit over the years. With the onset of the digital world; not everybody needs to print everything like they used to but printed packaging has really grown, specifically in Scotland, because Scotland has such a massive food and drink sector. We’ll continue to look after commercial printing because it’s still a key requirement but, going forward, we’ll focus on packaging for the food and drink sector in Scotland.”

E.S: Looking back at the past year, what have been some of the major challenges and major successes of this time period?

K.C: “The major challenge has obviously been the pandemic and ensuring people’s safety. We’ve had the factory open every day because we do Government and food packaging work, which is essential.

And, securing investment through a pandemic has also been difficult but we’ve managed it. Before the pandemic, we had planned a big acquisition year and were in talks with three companies, which understandably went on hold. So, we went straight into an investment programme and used Government schemes to put towards new machinery and allows us to guarantee jobs.

So, what’s been our biggest challenges have also been our biggest successes. We managed to stay open; we’ve learnt how to work remotely via Zoom and learnt how to make sure the factory is COVID secure.”

E.S: Are there any particular goals that Ivanhoe Caledonian has set for the next few years?

K.C: “We have a big investment programme which coincides with our machinery investment and investment in more staff. We have the ambition to double in size by 2023.

We want to become the go-to people for food and drink print and packaging in Scotland; not just at a regional level because we’re already the biggest printer in the south-east of Scotland. We want to be a big player across the whole of Scotland.

We know we have to grow as a company; we’ll likely have to move to a bigger premises soon and long-term are considering building our own custom space. We also need to continue to bring through a young workforce. It’s an ambitious plan but we feel very confident in what we’re doing, and we’re being backed by big Government schemes.”

So, what’s been our biggest challenges have also been our biggest successes. We managed to stay open; we’ve learnt how to work remotely via Zoom and learnt how to make sure the factory is COVID secure.

E.S: You recently completed the Entrepreneurial Scotland eVolve programme — what was the biggest learning/takeaway of the programme to you as an entrepreneurial leader? Was there a moment that stood out to you?

K.C: “If there was a moment that stood out, it was a talk by Mark Beaumont. Although all the speakers were brilliant, he was one that stood out to me. He was talking about how he recruited his team; he assumed that before they were applying, they had the correct level skills, more or less. So, he looked to hire based on character because they would be put under pressure when they were out doing a challenge, or trying to break a record.

It resonated. He said: who’s going to be the sort of person I need when the ship goes down? Who can take the pressure, the anxiety? And, who’s a real character? It stuck with me.

In general, there’s so much I learnt from the programme. But, I think, my job can be really lonely at times. You can bounce ideas off your colleagues, advisors, all your support but, really, when it comes down to the big decisions, you’re on your own. So, there’s a lot of time thinking: am I making the right decision?

But, when you’re part of the programme you’re able to open up to people in a safe environment; it’s a bit like being on a board. So, when you’re chatting to everyone, you’re getting lots of good feedback. It’s amazing.”

When you’re part of the programme you’re able to open up to people in a safe environment; it’s a bit like being on a board.

E.S: What can be learned from peers that you can't learn on your own, or from a college?

K.C: “Everybody has such a wide experience; plus the speakers on the programme also have such a wide experience so there are so many things to learn. All the speakers were saying things that were absolute gold. It’s the wealth of experience and the way it’s distributed.

None of your competitors are there; none of your staff are there and so you don’t feel daft asking a question. You’re not frightened to ask a question. You really do feel like you can open up and say things you wouldn’t otherwise say.

Maybe also having a bit more confidence to ask people for help too… it really did help with a lot of negotiations I’ve had lately.”

E.S: When you’re looking for new talent in the business, what are the most important qualities that you look for?

K.C: “Based on what people like Mark said, we started thinking about different kinds of things we’re looking for. Character is really important; having a level of maturity and enthusiasm. I think it’s very important for what we’re doing… we’re looking for people who are up for a challenge. We need people to bounce through the door and be excited about what they’re going to do. Character, maturity and enthusiasm, I would say.”

E.S: Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What's yours?

K.C: “I think there is. Obviously, hard work is a given. You do have to work hard. I love these quotes when people say: ‘I didn’t start getting lucky until I put in X amount of hours a week’ because that’s true. I mean everybody’s had to put in the hard work to get here.

I think you have to be passionate about what you do. We’re very passionate about what we do. I believe that if you’re passionate about what you do, if you really care, and if you’re really committed then that will shine through. You’ve got to love what you do. As the last remaining commercial printer in Edinburgh, we’re a bit of a lifeboat for everybody who cares about the industry in the area. I think that does shine through when you chat to our people; we’ve got a whole bunch of people who are passionate.

You’ve got to have vision. I think it’s quite difficult to stick to your vision at times because you often have people challenging your idea, which is healthy, but I’ve learnt that it’s good to listen to everybody. But, the vision of what you want the company to be is your vision. So, if you change it too much, it’s no longer your vision. You’ve got to trust yourself.

Also, determination. You’ve got to be determined to pull through on what you said you were going to do. You can’t really let it go. If you’re doing something different, changing or challenging something, within your industry, then people won’t like it. So, you’ve got to be determined to see it through and not be put off course.

It’s a fine line between listening to people; taking advice and being put off a course which you know is right. If you know the course is right then you have to be determined to see that through.

So, hard work. You’ve got to be passionate. You’ve got to have a bit of vision. And, you’ve got to be determined.”

You’ve got to be passionate. You’ve got to have a bit of vision. And, you’ve got to be determined.

E.S: What are some of the mistakes you wished you could have avoided?

K.C: “Oh there’s been tonnes. As you go through your career, you realise you make lots of mistakes; I’ve made lots of mistakes. Some of my biggest regrets were when I have let other people put me off something or when I’ve not believed in myself as much as I should have, and maybe missed an opportunity in that way.

So, there have been circumstances when I thought that was the right thing to do and someone said: ‘No, no, no. We’re not going to do it like that’. And, I listened. Then, a year or so down the line, I thought: I should have done what I was going to do there. If it was going to be a mistake, it would have been my mistake. But, ultimately, I made someone else’s mistake by not believing in myself enough. You have to believe in yourself.”

E.S: Do you have any tips you would now give yourself for when you first started in business?

K.C: “Honestly, there’s so many. One of the things I did learn when you’re merging a business; buying a business or any investment is: you can never have enough cash. It’s not until you do one of these things that you realise you need a lot of cash. Nobody tells you that; nobody says you're going to need a massive cash flow.

Cash really is king. As entrepreneurs, you’ve got to know your finances. Most entrepreneurs, I know, are good with money but are too busy thinking about what they’re going to do next. So, we really do need a finance person to say: ‘right, okay. I’ll do the forecast for you; you tell me what you want to do and I’ll do the forecast”. So, cash is king and finances are very important.

Also, I think you've got to be ruthless at times. Sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind; we do have to develop that side, I think.

And, not being afraid to trust yourself; don’t be afraid to back yourself. Like I said, it’s easy to be pushed off course. But, think: I accept I’m going to upset people; I accept I’m doing things differently but it’s the right thing to do and I believe in it. Then, if it’s a mistake, at least it’s your mistake. But back yourself; don’t wait for someone else to back you.”

E.S: As a member of the ES Community, what do you feel is the biggest benefit and value gained?

K.C: “There are so many benefits. But, access to a wide network of experienced people, and that knowledge, is invaluable. As people are willing to help, you do feel like you can reach out. It’s been a tremendous benefit. For example, to speak to people who have maybe done what you’ve done, it does open up your thoughts or ideas to maybe take it a bit further, or be more creative.

Again, it’s the feeling of not being alone. So, having that safe area to speak to people and to be provoked to think about different ideas.

I enjoyed a lot of the reading you get in the programme, as well. It’s an excellent programme.”

I accept I’m doing things differently but it’s the right thing to do and I believe in it.


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