James and Angela MacLean are the husband and wife team behind Border Eggs. This organic, free range egg company near the Scottish / English border boasts an impressive 40,000 chickens, laying over 250,000 eggs per week. The pair have received business mentoring from Ian Collins of the Bank of Scotland and last month both Ian and Angela spoke at the Edinburgh Meet a Mentor event. We caught up with Angela fresh from her Meet a Mentor appearance and she told us more about the business and Ian’s mentoring input.
James set up the business in 2007 on the site of his family’s arable farm, having realised the farm itself wasn’t generating sufficient work to keep both himself and his father busy. Angela explains that her husband began to look into new opportunities:
“James likes to be busy so he started to investigate different ways to diversify and allow him to stay at home on the family farm. After considering a number of options he came across organic chickens. It took two years to convert the land from conventional farm land to organic land and first birds arrived on the farm in March 2007.”
Border Eggs now runs as an entirely separate entity to the family’s 400-acre farm and the business supplies eggs to Noble Foods, a company that has contracts with the main supermarkets including Marks & Spencer, and which created the Happy Eggs brand. Last year Angela, who worked for the NHS as a service and planning manager, was eventually persuaded by James to leave her position and work full-time on Border Eggs:
“From around 2008 I would come home in the evening and do the paperwork for the business, taking on some of the responsibility James’ mum had previously held. In 2012, I reduced my hours and worked part-time for the NHS but in May last year I gave up my day job and I now work solely for the business.”
Accompanying James and Angela on their journey from fledgling business to successful new farming enterprise, has been Ian Collins, a Bank of Scotland business mentor whose support they enlisted in 2013. It was Ian who invited Angela to come along to the Edinburgh Meet a Mentor event last month to share Border Eggs’ experiences. Although the business doesn’t hold its bank accounts with the Bank of Scotland, it is still able to access the mentoring support provided by the bank. Having been assigned their mentor, the couple quickly realised he was a good match for them and their business:
“Ian is a similar type of personality to both of us and it works really well, although it may seem unusual given his banking, James’ farming and my health service background. It’s not the day-to-day detail or the nitty-gritty we talk about with Ian. It’s more about bigger business structures. For example, we talked to him on how we structure the business for the future and our plans for further expansion. Off the back of those discussions we’ve reviewed our professional team and changed lawyers and also updated our wills.”
Ian has also helped the pair to shape their approach to employing staff, releasing their full potential for the business and simultaneously taking care of their needs as employees:
“We’ve had a changeover of staff over the last couple of years. We’ve now got a really great team and we’ve worked with Ian to decipher how to take on board their views and opinions. He’s helped us define how to create that staff involvement and how to implement a good staff reward system.
For Angela, Ian represents an excellent source of expertise and experience. Working with a knowledgeable business mentor has allowed Border Eggs to combine James’ extensive understanding of the farming and food industry, Angela’s business and administration skills and Ian’s wider business and banking overview. So, what can Angela see on the horizon for this fruitful mentoring relationship?
“Next time I see Ian, I hope to talk to him about our expansion plans and the government’s new auto-enrolment legislation! There’s always some area where his support is welcome.”