Back to the Future: Q&A with Simon Wrench, Finance Director (Part 1)

We sat down with our Finance Director for a quick chat about the future of Aquascot and its essential role in the local community and beyond.

Simon Wrench is an optimistic individual, always looking at ways to improve the culture and processes in place at Aquascot. In his spare time, he is a keen cyclist, and enjoys exploring the beauty of the Scottish Highlands, which he now calls home.

How long have you been working with us? What made you want to join Aquascot in the first place?

I joined in July 2019, so almost 3 years. At the time, I was in the process of leaving my previous employer, and I got a call out of the blue from a recruiter, who said, “Have you heard about Aquascot?”, to which I responded, “No, I've never heard of them”. I then tried to find a little bit of information online, which was not easy – I found a website that looked to be about 3 or 4 years out of date (website now updated!), but I decided to give it a shot anyways.

At my first interview, I met Niall Macdonald, who was the Managing Director at the time, and I was really impressed by him as an individual. We just got chatting about what the role would involve, how I could contribute, and he explained to me the dedicated partnership with Waitrose. Almost by accident at the end of the meeting, he mentioned the employee ownership status – and that really got my interest.

I thought a lot about that, and I did a lot of research between my first and my second interviews. In the second interview, I got the opportunity to meet the Board, and I also met with the Finance team and a few other members of the Leadership Team.

In summary, there was a couple things that really impressed me. One, it was a very thorough interview process, where I got to meet everyone that I would be working with, which is pretty rare in my experience. I even got a good tour of the Production site, to see what was actually happening on the Production floor.

Second, employee ownership really resonated with me. Over the years, I have worked for businesses where the management team don’t always put their employees front and centre of their decision making and in turn this means the decisions are not always made in the best interests of the employees or Partners. Whereas at Aquascot, our Partners are our shareholders, so with every decision we take we are always trying to do the right things for them and work in their best interest.


Do you think there’s been a lot of change over the past three years in the business?

On the one hand, no, because we’re still a dedicated supplier to Waitrose, that bit continues. On the other hand, I would say there’s been a lot of change in terms of how we are structured internally. We’re moving away from the old school, command-and-control decision-making, where, if the senior management team don’t tell you to do something, you don’t do it.

We want to push decision-making downwards, so that those who are on the Production floor feel empowered to make decisions – that those sitting in a chair in the office make them feel empowered to make decisions. It’s trying to get everybody to feel part of one big team. But we’re still on a journey, and it's going to take a while to get there.

"Whereas at Aquascot, our Partners are our shareholders, so with every decision we take we are always trying to do the right things for them and work in their best interest."

What kind of responsibility does your role involve?

As Finance Director, there’s the day-to-day stuff like making sure our finances are correct, accurate, report how the business actually performs, so we can make accurate decisions. My role has developed over the last two years or so, so I now have a seat on the IHCT Board as IHCT Investment Director for our diversification company SHORE. I am responsible for seeing how our diversification policy is working in practice and try to drive that forward.

I’ve also been leading Aquascot’s response to COVID-19, making sure we keep Partners safe, and keep our Production plants operational for the last two years, which has been a bit of a rollercoaster at times.

I’m also getting more involved in day-to-day operational matters now as well, so not your typical finance remit, but trying to get the teams at both factory sites, Commercial, Engineering and Procurement all talking to each other every morning, so we get everyone moving in the same direction.

Another key part of my role also is funding. I spend a lot of time talking to HSBC, our banker, around finance for new bits of machinery and kit. But what I’ve also been doing over the last six months, in partnership with John (Housego) is try to raise our profile with HIE (Highlands & Islands Enterprise) so they know more about us, and we can tap into funding sources there.

I’ve also been raising our profile with the local MSPs and MPs. As such, I recently invited Maree Todd (SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) and Jamie Stone (Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) on site for a tour of our Production facilities, for them to understand a bit more about Aquascot. We have the ambition to do more in our community and build a larger sustainable business, and we believe our vision very much fits into the aspirations of Scotland’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation.


From left to right: Andy Wilson, Simon Wrench, John Housego, Maree Todd & Emma Tait

What types of exciting projects are you working on?

At the moment, we’ve got two projects underway. One is for vertical merchandising, and the other one to build a new plant. We are in discussion with various funders to see how they could help us with funding for vertical merchandising. Basically, we need to buy new machinery, we can’t fit it into our existing layout, so we need to either convert one of our other buildings to house it on a temporary basis or get a temporary building to go into the yard. There are various options we are looking at there. We are also exploring the option of building a new plant at our Riverside site. A purpose-built, state-of-the-art facility, with modern Partner accommodation.

And if we get that building right, it should be a real incentive for people to come and work for us at Aquascot. Ernst & Young is currently helping us with an application to the UK Seafood Infrastructure Fund. A successful application will go some way to funding the new build.

"We can become bigger, more successful, more profitable, offer more career opportunities for Partners than we do just now, and ideally become the employer of choice in the local area."

Could you tell us a bit more about your role on the Board?

The Board exists first and foremost because there is a legal responsibility that any limited company, which Aquascot is, must have a Board of Directors. The Board are responsible for setting the strategic direction of Aquascot, so myself and John and now Andy (Wilson), will spend a lot of time not necessarily thinking about today, but what’s coming down the tracks, in 12 months’, 5 years’ time. It’s not always easy, as we don’t have a crystal ball. It’s trying to think through different scenarios, as to what could be coming towards us, and how we’re best placed to react. We draw on our collective experience from working across different industry sectors and tap into the knowledge of our Non-Executive Directors.

The other side of being on the Board is we do have a legal responsibility for things like Partner welfare, and Health & Safety. For example, if a Partner is injured at work, that could resolve in the Directors ending up in court and charged by the Health & Safety Executive. So clearly, everybody wants to avoid that. We have a big focus on H&S, and making sure everyone is, and continues to be safe at work. We’ve made a lot of improvements in the last 3 years, but we want to get to the position where there are no accidents or near misses at all.

I think Aquascot is at a really interesting time. I can see possibilities for us, over the next 5 years, particularly if we can get a new factory built at Riverside, where we could go and become a much bigger organisation than we are now. This will give us the capacity to meet Waitrose growth ambitions and the flexibility to win new volume should opportunities present themselves.

We can become bigger, more successful, more profitable, offer more career opportunities for Partners than we do just now, and ideally become the employer of choice in the local area. We’ve got to make the right decisions over the next couple years to allow us to do that, but there is a realistic ambition there that we can go after.

Read Part 2 of our Q&A with Simon HERE

Follow Aquascot on LinkedIn and Facebook for the latest news, recipes and information from the Scottish seafood people in Alness.

Interviewed by: Justine Fourny (Category & Marketing Officer)

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