Who is Lord Laidlaw?

Lord Laidlaw reflects on his path to success, privilege, and philanthropy.

Like Comment

Last video interview of the month! Make sure you check out the previous episodes: 

Lord Laidlaw: Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship Programme

Lord Laidlaw: Women's Business Education Scholarship Programme 

Lord Laidlaw: Career Advice for Next Generation Leaders

Transcript: 

Who is Lord Laidlaw? 

IRVINE LAIDLAW: Many people see, indeed most people perhaps, see opportunities. But not enough of us seize the opportunities we have seen. So, they see something that could be turned into a business but they...well, they go to the pub, they find other things to do, and they don’t say “I’m going to make a success out of that.”

I was fortunate in that my family background was a background of entrepreneurs - my great grandfather started the family business, as a tiny little business in the northeast of Scotland and it grew into a textile company through my grandfather and my father.

I decided that I didn’t want to spend my life in the northeast of Scotland and so, I didn’t join the family business. I went to the States and did an MBA at Columbia, and then joined an American company. I worked for them in New York and then in London and then started my own businesses. Initially not successfully but later - very successfully.

My main company that I started up was called IIR - it was a conference and exhibition company. I sold that in 2005 and then went into the renewable energy business. Since then I’ve built 2 very large off-shore windfarms in Germany and sold them successfully and I am now building renewable energy plants in Rwanda.

When I ran IIR, I didn’t care whether our employees were male, female, their sexual orientation, their colour. What I did care desperately about was their performance. And I do believe that all chief executives - everyone running an organisation - should have that attitude.

[On privilege]

My privileges came right from my birth of being born to very aspirational parents who insisted that I worked hard, that I was successful, that I did my homework, who sent me to good schools, and who always expected me to be a success. So, it started right from the beginning. We are trying at LST [Laidlaw Schools Trust] to help our students who perhaps don’t have the privileges that I did. And then, of course, I’ve gone on to build a successful business and created wealth and that's another privilege that I have. Hopefully, we can help others to do exactly the same. 

Philanthropy is the most difficult thing I have ever done. Making money is relatively easy. Giving it away well is extremely hard. By giving it away well, I don’t mean just writing checks. I mean making a long-term difference to all the people that we help. It’s not enough to deliver a service. We’ve got to ensure that that service, whether it’s education or a scholarship, will make a difference to the people. And not just a short-term difference - a long-term difference in their lives. We want to change their lives, we want to improve their lives. And that’s not easy.

- END - 

Music:  La Traviata, Brindisi (Verdi) by MIT Symphony Orchestra

Nikol Chen (she/her)

Digital Content Manager, Laidlaw Foundation

Hello! I have been with the Laidlaw Foundation for over 2 years, helping us strengthen the global Laidlaw community and expand our programmes to break the cycle of poverty, reduce inequality, and develop a new generation of leaders.

I am originally from Kazakhstan and I studied Human Sciences at UCL. I am a fan of all things human- and design-related, as well as an avid swimmer, obsessive podcast listener, documentary enthusiast, and film photography fan.

Drop me a line if you'd like to chat! 💬👀