Leadership across Scotland

Mary Few, Head of Saxton Bampfylde’s Scotland Practice shares her experiences on hiring and attracting top talent across Scotland’s major cities.

Mary says:

Since relocating home to Scotland five years ago after working in London and then South East Asia, I have had the pleasure of getting to know each of Scotland’s cities working with hiring managers to attract top talent into Scotland, and also develop our own local talent.

I’m delighted to share some of these experiences and the challenges HR Directors and Hiring Managers face to attract or retain local talent.  I have aimed to profile each of Scotland’s major cities, and spoken to our clients or placed candidates in that area who have shared their experiences.

As a generalist executive search firm, we work with clients across a broad spectrum of sectors. This unique insight into the heartbeat of each city gives us the ability to genuinely advocate on the client’s and the wider region’s behalf to top talent considering relocation.



I want to start this mini-series with Dundee. With the risk of this sounding like a travel blog, it is important to give some context. In my first year with Saxton Bampfylde I found myself snow-bound during the Beast from the East. Kate Ludlow and I sought refuge in the alongside other weather-beaten travellers, we were given a warm Dundonian welcome and I haven’t forgotten it. This is a city that has seen such significant change and growth over the last ten years it is almost unrecognisable. I say almost, because what hasn’t changed in Dundee is its people, its pride and its huge ambition. We have been delighted to work with some of Dundee’s giants over the last few years including DC Thompson, V&A Dundee, Dundee Heritage Trust and the University of Dundee. What has struck me most about Dundee is that across all of these sectors there is great collaboration to develop the city and have a positive impact on peoples’ lives.

According to our clients, Dundee can sometimes be seen as Edinburgh’s smaller sister to the UK’s top talent, a smaller sister maybe, but an agile and fiery one. From its industrial heritage, it has built a city of design, culture and sharp minds. It has become the world’s destination for gaming design, it is home to the V&A Dundee, the first V&A outside of London, Captain Scott’s Discovery has found her final resting place in Dundee, world class research abounds at its universities and it is of course home to the Beano and Oor Wullie. A foodie culture has emerged, my favourite discovery was La Cueva tapas restaurant on Ward Street and of course the V&A Dundee’s café! New hotels are opening and Dundee has announced the feasibility study for the development of the Eden Project, and more recently the NLAE esports arena development on the waterfront.

The talent agenda has been a critical challenge for clients in Dundee. On one hand, clients have spoken to us about the difficulty of retaining top local talent, as young people are attracted by roles further afield to progress their careers. However, with the promise of the likes of the eden-project and NLAE’s development, it is easy to predict that this will change and that there will be more opportunities for local talent. There still remains the challenge of relocating people to the area. Clients have spoken to us about tackling any preconceptions candidates may have of the city and of the challenge of relocating their families. This requires transparent advocacy and advice on all aspects of what makes Dundee so unique, in terms of its history but also its focus on the future and the jobs of the future, and of course the quality of life that the area can offer. We have found, across a broad range of clients in Dundee, a great sense of flexibility and innovation to accommodate people’s working and personal lives, something that has only been thrown into the spotlight by the Covid crisis. Personally, I have found it a great pleasure to advocate on Dundee’s behalf to candidates considering it as their new home, and helping them to find fulfilling and exciting career paths, and I am looking forward to being part of Dundee’s next phase of its regeneration.



An Aberdonian at heart, born and bred west of Huntly, I love any excuse to team up with clients in the granite city, although I often have to translate for my colleagues! Growing up, Aberdeen was somewhere we came to on a ‘day oot’. The city, transformed since those days, has been through some high highs and some crashing lows over the years, but there is a determination and innovation in the people of the North East that makes Aberdeen resilient. In the face of a global financial crash, Aberdeen innovated, creating centres for excellence in technology and decommissioning.

Opportunity North East, founded by Sir Ian Wood, has led the way to drive economic growth across the city and the wider region, investing in industries beyond oil and gas such as food and drink manufacturing, tourism and more recently the EnergyTech programme to accelerate digital innovation in the energy sector. Aberdeen’s neighbour, Peterhead, home to Europe’s largest white fish market in Europe, recorded over £200million worth of sales last year. Aberdeenshire continues to be known for its best in class livestock and farming expertise. Distilleries and breweries export their precious cargo worldwide from their north East homes and tourists travel to visit the ‘pink castles’ and rugged coastline.

Working with the likes of the University of Aberdeen and the Oil and Gas Authority in recent years has been eye opening for us as a business, seeing the investment in the region and the efforts of the university to collaborate more broadly across the sectors mentioned above, creating jobs for the future and retaining top local talent in the region. When relocating candidates to Aberdeen, we sometimes find an initial resistance – it looks very far north on the map, and that sea haar can be biting – but on further exploration, candidates are drawn to the variety of roles, businesses and industries on offer as well as the immediate access to rugged countryside and excellent schooling. Aberdeen is known worldwide for its industry expertise and although it is a relatively small pond in terms of talent, we have found that this therefore gives ambitious individuals the opportunity to progress their careers and network with industry leaders in a way they might not have in one of Scotland’s bigger cities. For our clients, it is important to them that we understand the way the city ticks, beyond their office walls, there is a unique culture in the north east and we need to be able to articulate it to candidates and what it will mean for their families. For me personally, it has been a joy to have had the chance to do that.



Glasgow, a city which exudes pace and ambition, punches above its weight in commerce and industry and home to many global businesses. This appetite for scale has translated into a ‘global culture’ in Glasgow, where local Scottish talent has a window onto the world markets coupled with an international outlook and ambition. The city is recognised as a Global city, even ranking last year as one of the world’s ‘top ten cities’ by Time Out.

The City Council and the Chamber of Commerce have worked successfully together to create a city which holds huge appeal to large financial services firms, attracted by the large and diverse talent pool Glasgow offers and the ability to locate vast numbers of staff outside of London. Towering office blocks, although standing empty now, gleam throughout the city in juxtaposition with Glasgow’s renowned red stone.  HR Directors have a diverse talent pool from which to choose in Glasgow and forward-looking institutions preparing students for the future of work to partner with.

The city has invested heavily in the future, identifying key growth sectors which will be crucial to its future including digital technology, low carbon, life sciences and more. For talent at all levels, Glasgow offers so much more than just a career step, and as people look to move out of London, Glasgow could offer that balance that we all now crave.

We have been fortunate enough to get to know Glasgow, its people, and its weather, well over the years and have worked with institutions ranging from the Glasgow Academy and the University of Glasgow to STV and ACCA. Within each organisation, whether private or public, we have found a uniqueness to the Glaswegian spirit that attracts candidates from all over Scotland and further afield. Whether it is the live music, Finnieston’s foodie scene or even the renowned deep-fried pizza at Victor Pizza, people are drawn to the city and tend to stay. Billy Connolly and Kevin Bridges aren’t anomalies, I have always found Glaswegians to be open, welcoming and naturally funny, and even on the dreichest of West coast days, they can find something to laugh about.



Since moving back to Edinburgh in 2016 after eleven years spent living in Dublin, London and latterly Yangon, I have come to learn how much the city has changed and evolved over the past decade. I recall weighing up the pros and cons of which city to move home to in the UK when leaving Asia, and Edinburgh was an easy win with excellent career options, the benefits of all a small city has to offer and access to coast line and mountains.

The Edinburgh I returned to fosters an accelerated tech and fintech start up scene, encouraging entrepreneurs and fintech leaders to scale up their businesses in the capital to become part of the global digital evolution. The city’s higher education institutions have created world leading courses for the next generation coming into the workforce, equipped with the skillsets needed for operating in a digital world.  And finally, with the city’s reputation in financial services, over 37,000 people working in the sector, coupled with the availability of capital investment, Edinburgh is, more than ever, an attractive place for talent and business owners to be based.

Across the sectors that we work within at Saxton Bampfylde, Edinburgh is often seen as a centre of excellence, whether it is the competitive landscape of world-renowned universities and research institutions, or the collections of national significance at NMS within arts and heritage. We often find that within the public sector, aspiring leaders from elsewhere in the UK are drawn to the opportunity to work within a smaller environment where they can have more reach and influence. High growth sectors such as renewables and tech work side by side, looking to innovate and disrupt, and take advantage of the expertise and talent that exists locally.

Relocating candidates to Edinburgh is not often a hardship for us as head-hunters. People tend to be drawn to the balance of culture that the city offers and the professional opportunities to advance their careers. The Festival and Fringe still play a big part in the city’s annual calendar, but visitors and locals alike see much more than this during the rest of the year through the city’s beautiful theatres and galleries.

One final positive note that we have found this year is that organisations have become so much more flexible in how they recruit and what they expect from the executive and non-executive teams. Despite all of the glory that Edinburgh has to offer, we have found this flexibility on relocating people has really opened up the field to create ever more diverse and wide ranging candidate pools which is a very exciting outcome of what has been an extraordinary year.