The Easdale Brothers: Meet Scotland's Quiet Tycoons

Posted on: 15 November 2020

The Easdale Brothers: Meet Scotland's Quiet Tycoons

Some paths to the top are steeper than others. A glance down Scotland's rich list confirms that few of the titans started their journey hauling sheet metal in a scrapyard.

Given their astonishing list of acquisitions, it is testimony to the quiet approach of Sandy and James Easdale that you may have not already read about them.

As fellow business giants have wilted in the scorch of the pandemic downturn, two brothers from Greenock are making the most of some unusual opportunities.

"There are purchases available that nobody could have predicted," says James Easdale.

"The repurposing of the high street is remarkable, these wonderful places might never come back as retail. It is important we respect and do justice to these kinds of buys."

Watt Brothers, for decades Glasgow's most beloved department store, is one of many sites now in the hands of the Easdale brothers.

A conservative estimate might value their property and transportation empire at over £500m but the Easdale's considerable holdings in other sectors have never been properly scrutinised. 

The details are tantalising.

A chain of factories making windows and construction products, glass toughening plants under the Saveheat banner, considerable investments across the motor industry.

"It is up to others to speculate about us or tally valuations," says James (49).

"We keep our heads down. Our focus is always on the next thing, not counting achievements."

The brother's stake in the Tullis Russell paper mill site at Glenrothes is worth £250m alone. A building project on the site, one of the largest ever single developments in the local area, was approved by councillors late last year.

The Easdales now have 850 new houses and 147 acres to play with. The sprawling ex-IBM computer plant at Spango Valley in their hometown of Greenock is also to be redeveloped by the brothers, to the tune of £100m.

The brothers say they have another 220 acres in Scotland, earmarked for up 1,800 homes. With another half dozen sites and hundreds of acres of housing and industrial land, I query aloud if there could be anything I have missed.

"Well, we also have a few drive-through coffee restaurants on the go," says Sandy, 52, the senior brother by three years.

The Easdale interest in the sports industry started with their considerable stake in Rangers Football Club. That brought the brothers into contact with billionaire Newcastle owner Mike Ashley.

They remain close friends with the high street tycoon, the Easdales reveal a relationship that now extends into a wide range of joint leisure projects, and a London-based office making International investments.

Easdale holdings in other sectors are worth a reported £50m. The brothers are coy on overall valuation levels, simply admitting a turnover in excess of £150m last year.

No matter what number is placed on their achievements to date, it is clear their rise has been astronomical.

Having been working at their father's scrap metal yard since "before we were shaving" the boys left school with no qualifications at 16.

"Education is undoubtedly important," says James.

"But we were hungry to succeed, I don’t think the school could have taught us that desire or feeling."

As the brothers focus on a march to billionaire status, I push them on what propelled them out of bleak beginnings.

"We have business in our blood," says Sandy.

"Hard work and a fair price, that was the lesson we had instiled into us from our earliest years."

They credit their steely determination to their mother, Christina, who guided their road to business success.

"The hardest thing we have had to cope with was the death of our mum six years ago," says Sandy.

"She helped advise us on so many key moments as we progressed, she was a wonderful businesswoman and our inspiration.

"We are proud and humbled that she was here to see us make some very major deals and to do some justice to all she has sacrificed for us."

At 81, father Jim continues to look on with pride at the rise of his sons. Humble beginnings meant that the brothers shared a bedroom in their family home until their early twenties.

"We were working so hard that nothing else mattered," says Sandy.

"Our heads used to literally bang off the ceiling. It was a little house, we were towering past six feet in height from a young age, both in the same bedroom, but those conditions just make us appreciate the good things in life now.

"We respect money and know where we came from."

The brothers understand that a path to riches is not easy from such a humble background. In addition to their work in the Greenock scrapyard, the boys drove late-night taxis for a local operator in their teenage years.

In a sign of things to come, they saved up and bought the whole company. Then they snapped up another six taxi companies, owning a total of nearly 800 cars at one point.

The brothers then made the leap from taxis to buses. Spotting an opportunity they got their teeth into a stake in McGill's, a local transport company. Their bus fleet expanded from 33 then to 650 today, with a current £40m annual turnover.

The hospitality industry also attracted the sights of the young Easdale brothers and they started to build a portfolio of pubs. A raft of deals involving office blocks, retail parks, and then industrial estates followed in the years to come.

"There were certain points that felt like milestones," says James.

"I remember selling a site to Tony Gallagher for a million pounds, about twenty years ago. We admired Gallagher Estates, that deal felt like an important moment to us."

The brothers are passionate about the potential strength of business in Scotland, with a particular belief in their closest home city.

"Glasgow is a sleeping giant," says James.

"Manchester and London steal the headlines but really Glasgow is where the opportunity lies. It is a people's city, incredibly friendly, loaded with history, popular with overseas students, and a gateway to the stunning sights of Scotland."

Given their incredible rise to riches, the brothers refuse to attribute anything to their success other than hard work and dogged determination.

"People go to these fabulous business schools," says Sandy.

"They pay a fortune to learn how to make money. But what we have cannot be bought. From our earliest days, we were brought up with a siege mentality.

"Even on the smallest of deals, our attitude is forged to that. It is ferocious. Failure terrifies us. So we don't let it happen."

Bowman Rebecchi is delighted to support Sandy and James Easdale with their commercial portfolio. This article was written by Justin Stonehouse and appeared in The Herald.

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