BUSINESSiQ Editor Mike Hughes goes on a 45-year journey with Teesside businessman, mentor and ambassador Wilton Group CEO Bill Scott


THE actual journey to see Bill Scott is fascinating - not ‘Bill Scott’ fascinating as I am about to find out - but an eye-opener all the same.

For me it starts at the Echo’s Darlington offices and off along the A66. All normal so far.

But the view at the junction when you come off and join the A19 for that short hop to Portrack Lane really sets the scene. This is Bill country, with factory after factory turning, finishing, welding, buying, selling - with the Tees running through it like an artery pumping through the region from its head to its heart.

Read more: Teesside University and Wilton Group start renewables academy

The journey then along Haverton Hill Road is the warm-up act for the top of the Bill performer due on later. Fenced-off yards, last-leg vans, one-customer burger vans, possibly-abandoned pubs and overgrown spaces inbetween that someone, somewhere, must own?

In every business story there are a couple of sharp corners and cul-de-sacs, so pass by those swiftly and you get to within a few yards of one of the Transporter Bridge’s feet - and the entrance to Wilton Group.

The buzz of activity along the journey has been dizzying as if the whole ten minutes on this road passes a thousand businesses, each grafting day and night to make a couple of lines in the Teesside success story. Bill Scott has a whole chapter, maybe even a volume.

He is a proud man, but uniquely gracious and selfless. He just wants to do good things every day.

The Northern Echo: CEO of Wilton Group Bill Scott. Photograph by Stuart BoultonCEO of Wilton Group Bill Scott. Photograph by Stuart Boulton

At 60, he is in demand from businesses seeking his advice and Government bodies wanting his insight. He is an Export Champion, works with the Department of International Trade and mentors 15 companies, so is the first to say that the team he has built here, led by MD Steve Pearson, is so good that he is able to ‘do all that’ as well as being CEO.

That building of a team and a company starts with the building of a Billy. His dad was William as well, so got the rights to ‘Bill’ while his son was Billy Scott, a sports-mad teenager from Whinney Banks who was only focussed on football and basketball, despite his dad being a mechanic and crane engineer.

“I used to do the 100 meters 200, 400, long jump, high jump - I was just a really competitive sports guy,” Bill tells me in the Wilton boardroom overlooking his 112-acre site.

“I even remember my grandma and her cards, sitting playing snap with me, and having some sweets in the middle.

“So I’m sat there with her and she’s going ‘snap’ and she’d take a sweet away, Then she did ‘snap’ again and took another one.

“I said ‘grandma, when do I get a sweet?’ and she said ‘when you win’.

“That sort of competitiveness was in me from then.”

Mum was working in pubs and bakeries, bringing up Billy and his three siblings, who are all still very close.

“I remember being a young kid and knowing then that dad was exceptionally good at what he did, basically in charge of nearly all of the cranes in British Steel.”

“When I was a kid, I remember there was a huge bang on the door in the middle of the night and I’d look out the window and there was a blue van there to pick up dad to fix a problem with the cranes

“I would be awake all night waiting for it to come back and for him to come back into the the house, then I could go back to sleep.”

That early experience of hard graft clearly planted some sort of seed in Bill’s mind about skill and responsibility, but it was a genuinely shocking experience on a basketball court that started to turn Billy into Bill.

The Northern Echo: Photograph by Stuart BoultonPhotograph by Stuart Boulton

“ I started playing for a team in Thornaby and the coach was the owner of a fabrication company - a really competitive guy. I was going around him in one game and then, dead cheeky, went underneath the hoop and popped it in the net.

“And this guy just chopped me in the neck and I went straight down on the floor coughing.

“The ball had gone back up to the other end, so I’m running back and just carried on playing and at the end of the game we shook hands without any whingeing.

“Later, he phoned my dad and said ‘what’s Billy going to do’ and dad said maybe the Navy or the Air Force. “

So this guy says ‘I’ve got an apprenticeship for him - and he’s already been interviewed’ and told dad what had happened on the court and said ‘He didn’t moan or whinge - that’s the type of person I want.’

And so it happened. From maybe thinking about the Navy, to possible being a chef (“I would have had to start before I took my exams and my dad wouldn’t let me go”) to 16-year-old Bill taking a job he had no interest in but where it soon became clear that his attention to detail, confidence and that determination to overcome whatever was put in front of him were something special.

“I enjoyed being an apprentice,” he says.

“On the first day the person in charge of the place said to me ‘Right. You think you need to be trained, but I’m telling you that you get trained when you go to college. Here you make me money’

“I said alright, great, crack on.”

He recalls each of these pivotal incidents with great clarity because he now knows they were landmarks, each helping develop a different insight or a new facet of his character.

Like the boss who stopped of at a corner shop and pulled out a huge wad of notes (“Rolled up so tight you couldn’t see the centre - I told him you’ve got my annual salary in your pocket.”) who then told Bill that he would one day have that same sort of money as the Managing Director ‘unless you go off and start your own company’.

He tells me: “ I remember things like that - they are like little pebbles dropped in the pond that are still with me to this day.”

Or when he was put in charge of a team of workers older and more experienced than him and decided the way forward was to ask, not tell. From that day he says he has always asked for something to be done, rather than demanding it. That’s a part of the Wilton culture - a feeling for the company that stems back to the day he persuded his boss to get get co-ordinated overalls and then boots and hard hats.

“There were different overalls all over the place and no-one felt like part of a team. So we got this new kit and we looked the business and everybody was proud to wear them. That was the very first step in changing the culture of the business.

He was headhunted into different companies three times before he set up on his own.

“I remember being stood there brushing my teeth when I was 32 and thinking right, you’ve gone from one, to another and another. I think it’s about time you started doing this yourself.

“What I did in the other companies is I learned about projects finance, managing people and I was putting all of those skills in place and I was thinking now is the time to to do something.

“Those companies did some good things and they did some not so good things, so I use the good things and make sure the bad things don’t happen.

“In my head I’m still an apprentice. I’m still learning every day. We don’t have any hierarchy here to stop that. Yes, I’m the CEO but I’m just an employee of the company and I think that’s where a lot of people go wrong.

“They need to grasp that and understand that every person matters. It doesn’t matter what you do from the guys in the shop floor, the office, the account staff, the finance people, the planners, they’ve all got a job to do.

“That’s your jigsaw and if they don’t do their job correctly, you can’t finish your jigsaw.”

There’s certainly no puzzle about Bill Scott. He’ll tell it like it is with honesty, courtesy and clarity - the sort of qualities that are a template for the sort of people who have got us to this extraordinary point in time and will take us further than we thought possible.


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