March 24, 2021
At our first Diversity in Business Event, Sumayya Usmani, Food Educator, Broadcaster and author of two award-winning cookbooks discussed the need for a changing mindset
For a town full of businesses it seems strange that the impetus for founding a business club in St Andrews came from Dundee. The irony now is that the Dundee club no longer exists, whereas its offspring is thriving!!
The St Andrews Business Club began life in 1950. For many years meetings were held in McArthur’s Café (now The Rule) in South Street. One of the first speakers to address members was a Mr Paterson, President of the Dundee Business Club, on the subject of the “Functions of a Business Club.” I couldn’t find any record of this talk, which is a pity. In fact, the earliest records of the Club are surprisingly scant. However, the list of topics covered in those early days suggests that interests haven’t changed that much in the town, though without a doubt the details have. There were talks about the Tourist Board (before VisitScotland), Town & Country planning, juvenile delinquency, Britain’s economic problems, pension schemes for private firms, and so on. On 30 October 1950 Prof T M Knox spoke about, “The Place & Development of the University in St Andrews.” Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University since 1936, Prof Knox was to become Principal in 1953, three years after this talk.
On 7 November 1951, the Burgh Engineer, R F Buick spoke about “the Development Plan for St Andrews.” How different that has become since! There followed a somewhat enigmatic topic on 26 November 1951 by Prof J H Baxter entitled, “Persia? Oil.” Presumably that is today’s Iran. Then C H A Collyns of the Fife Sub Area SEB Electricity Board addressed, “The Development of Electricity” on 31 March 1952. Peter Thomson, the BBC Sports Commentator spoke on 30 November 1953, but no title is recorded. On 14 December the same year, A D Taylor of the (late lamented) Guardbridge Paper Company talked about, “Papermaking.” In 1963, now Principal, Prof Knox told the Business Club that the University’s annual salary bill stood at £400,000, expected to rise to £600,000 within 3 years. That was before decimalization of Britain’s currency.
The list is fascinating in its variety. That hasn’t changed over the years. Regular meetings were held monthly, apart from the usual holiday times. It seems that neither topics nor speakers were ever in short supply. Well kent names appear regularly: Sir Menzies Campbell; Michael Bonallack; A B Paterson; Donald Finlay, to mention a few.
There were outings to D C Thomson in Dundee, The Guardbridge Paper Mill, the Byre Theatre etc. The most unusual visit was a day trip spent on board a Nuclear Deterrent Submarine at the Faslane Naval Base. Grand annual dinners, with ‘all the trimmings’ were held.
Membership, however, dipped in the late 1990s, with serious consideration being given to a possible merger with the Merchants’ Association. That did not transpire. A rethink by the committee came to the conclusion that meeting in the evening was the problem.
Relocating to the Scores Hotel, breakfast meetings were introduced, starting at 7.45am with a full breakfast available before the scheduled talk. This proved the making of the Club, and membership has increased as a result.
The minutes of Peter Mason’s President’s report at the Club’s AGM in 2005, reads: “The President indicated that he enjoyed being President. His duties had been far more pleasant and less onerous than he had expected.” Exactly what, I wonder, had he expected?
Kenneth Russell, the current President of the Club, is certain that “it’s the sign of a good club when you get good speakers and good attendances,” all of which is true today. Membership fees, though they have had to rise this last year to cover costs, are still reasonable at £30 for the year, with £10.50 for each breakfast. “We don’t pay any speakers,” yet the calibre continues to be high.
Outings are still planned, a popular visit to the Hill of Tarvit being a recent one. The annual dinners are no longer the grand affairs they once were, in fact there hasn’t been one for a while. Anyone wishing to attend a meeting as a guest of an existing member is always made welcome.
This article first appeared in Issue 62 Jan/Feb 2014 for St Andrews In Focus, a bimonthly magazine edited by Flora Selwyn.