[The Fort Augustus Abbey section of this site has had to be written under the constraints of a termination agreement the Webmaster signed when he left the Abbey in 1998. Please forgive any resultant clumsy structure within these pages.]
In 1993 the webmaster had the honour of being invited to come up with a rescue package for the abbey which had just recently closed its boarding school. This began a five year relationship with this fascinating group of buildings and the monks which inhabited them. Some of whom remain friends to this day.
In 1998 a temporary, un-elected leader of the Benedictine community closed the abbey and began the sell off of anything and everything that could be moved. I have tried to catalogue some of this in the section entitled "The Demise".
There is another aspect to this story which really needs addressing. During the period I was at the abbey we had constructed an extremely popular website which, of course, closed when the abbey shut too. What I have decided to do is recreate some of that site within these pages. It must be appreciated that I have had to change words here and there from present to past tense. I feel, however, that it is important not to change too much or the feel of the original site will be lost. Where articles/pages were not written by me, I have shown all changed text in a different colour. Readers must remain aware that the abbey is no longer a Benedictine community and that today the buildings are now being developed as luxury apartments.
The following will only be of interest to very few:
I feel that it is right to mention that I have received correspondence saying words to the effect that "the closure was my responsibility owing to the senior position I held, and that the abbey's failure followed the pattern of my past business failures." I perhaps need to mention my own business past in order to ensure that nothing is hidden. I do not believe this material to be relevant. It is no more than twenty-five years of dirty linen. If you don't feel a need to read it please use the index at left to continue with the site. Nevertheless my dirty linen follows for those who feel the need to know. I take no pleasure in writing this, but will not be criticised unfairly.
In common with almost all successful businessmen, I have had failures, two of them in fact.
Failure one was the manufacturing of the board game Nessie Hunt in the nineteen-eighties while I was also managing director of a hugely successful business. The board game company failed owing to us being unable to break into the virtual "closed shop" of board game companies selling into the multiple retailers. We all knew it was a risk, but by far the greatest financial risk was taken by myself, my executive co-director, John Atkins, and my sister. When the company failed no trade creditors were left. We paid everyone off before ceasing trading, with the exception of ourselves, we lost all of our stake, our other shareholders, none of whom had any substantial holding, the local enterprise company who put up risk capital, the Bank of Scotland who made a loan under the small firms' loan guarantee scheme and so lost only a few pounds and our accountants who felt the project was worth one final extra attempt to raise money and they did this on the basis that if they could not raise the venture capital they knew that they could not be paid for trying. Of the small shareholders who lost money, they were all either friends or relations and all have remained friends to this day. A failure, yes, but a clean failure closed with integrity and without hurting individuals, businesses or suppliers.
Failure number two was a manufacturing business in Fife called Genesis Creations Ltd. This company failed because the customer base, mainly small English High Street gift shops, went bust during the early nineties' recession. This made the company insolvent. It is illegal to trade when insolvent, so we immediately went to the bank and accountants and took advice. The decision was made to cease trading. Myself, my wife and my sister lost well in excess of £100,000 rather than go bankrupt and although we could not pay off everybody we did pay off as many as we could. This was again the way to exit with integrity. What is really sad is that the business was making a profit. It was our customers who went bust and forced us into insolvency. Many, many companies collapsed during that dreadful recession. We were not alone.
At least two vindictive individuals have given the impression to people that I am one of these unscrupulous businessmen who set up businesses deliberately to fail, extracting cash and assets, then going bust and rising like a phoenix a short time later in a different guise. This is certainly not true, but I do know that the stories have been repeated to deliberately blacken my name. Perhaps this helps put that record straight.
How do I feel about my two failures? Obviously disappointed that I lost so much in each of them. Regarding the game, it was a gamble that failed, what more can be said ... all the investors knew this too. We could have made millions, but didn't. As for Genesis I feel very sad because we had actually become profitable, but because so many of our customers had gone bust owing us money we had to stop trading. With interest rates at 15% at the time it was not possible to find a venture capitalist to help us ride through.
Was the abbey a failure of mine? Of course not. We had achieved a huge amount. Its closure was out of my hands and against my advice. Sadly I am not allowed to mention the opinion of the accountants and the local enterprise company here or I could be in breach of contract, but I would dearly love to do so! In the words of a famous TV show, "You may like to guess what their advice was, I couldn't possibly comment!"
Of course I accept a share of the responsibility, however, as shown in my honest description of events in "the demise". Yes, we got some things wrong, but it should not have been closed, there were other options.
Having mentioned my failures I should also say that there have been numerous successes including a lucrative business I had to close down in 1994 at the request of the monks in order to become bursar. Another is the hugely successful Loch Ness Centre which I left in 1990 to pursue other interests, one of which was Genesis unfortunately! My Discover Loch Ness bus tour business grew to the heights of becoming the first and remained the highest ever pointed five star tour. I sold it at its peak. Today my InvernessTours.com exclusive tour business is a tremendous success and I have assisted other ventures to succeed too.
Another point my critics will be unable to answer is why I have had the same bankers for all of my businesses for the last 30 years, the same lawyers for the last 29 years and the same accountants for the last 21 years. I have also recently received government financial assistance for my business including during the year following the abbey's closure. How can the consistent support of these professionals over two decades be squared with stories that I am some sort of serial business failure? I am now also the Chairman of the Drumnadrochit Chamber of Commerce and a director of the new Destination Loch Ness area destination management company.
Those who have repeated untrue stories about me are now exposed for what they are. Liars and repeaters of inaccurate gossip! Would someone now please like to name them to me?
Will those who did not really need to read all this dirty linen, please forgive those who made it necessary for me to put it up here.
Reset 3rd January 2008