The same can be said of some of the most important inventions.
Here are just a few whose lineage goes back to Scotland: adhesive postage stamps, anaesthetics, the Buick car, penicillin, the decimal point, telephones, fax machines, the first cloned mammal, pneumatic tyres, radar, thermos flasks, televisions, marmalade, microwave ovens, paraffin, fridges, golf and, of course, whisky.
The basics of modern economics also come from a Scotsman and the nation is well respected for its financial prudence, as shown by Gordon Brown’s role as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In the fleet industry, the influence from north of the border is just as great – and just as understated.
Bank of Scotland Vehicle Finance, part of HBOS, is well known as one of the 10 largest contract hire firms in the country, with a funded fleet of about 90,000 units. But its influence spreads much further, as parent HBOS also has a half share in Lex Vehicle Leasing, accounting for a half share of 120,000 funded units.
Then there is its backing of Renault Financial Services, which operates about 20,000 vehicles, according to the 2004 FN50 – the list of the largest contract hire and leasing firms in the country.
In addition, BOSVF is one of the major providers of funding to the rental industry, which covers a further 70,000 vehicles, while it offers white label finance to so-called agents in the industry that accounts for about 50,000 vehicles.
Industry experts have been talking about the arrival of the 200,000 vehicle leasing fleet for the past couple of years, but the truth is it is already here. You just need to know where to look.
Because although the businesses are separated by ‘Chinese walls’ to protect the integrity of each sector, the combined fleet operated by the firm, with the addition to the indirect link to Lex Vehicle Leasing, is nearing 300,000 units. However, looking at the understated way in which the business operates, it could count as the biggest small business in the UK.
This is perhaps because of the way it has been created over the decades from several smaller businesses, in a similar way to the Bank of Scotland itself.
George Grant, managing director of Bank of Scotland Vehicle Finance, said: ‘The first involvement with vehicle finance was in 1959 when Bank of Scotland bought Northwest Securities.
‘In the 1980s, that business got involved in contract hire through a joint venture with Highway Vehicle Leasing called Capital Vehicle Contracts.’
In the early 1990s, Godfrey Davis Contract Hire was bought by Northwest and the joint venture with Highway was ended, being replaced with Capital Bank Vehicle Management, while at the same time Bank of Scotland bought Bank of Wales, which included leasing firm First Mutual Contracts.
Staff fleet services were also dealt with in-house while new brands were also being set up, including Freeway, the scheme for opt-out drivers taking the personal leasing route.
With so many brands and businesses, all with separate back office costs, the business went through a ‘more for less’ strategic review in the late 1990s, which has lasted until this year.
Key areas for consolidation included the fact that there were three sets of fleet controllers around the country, when the workload could have been directed to just one.
The whole business is now based on three sites –Edinburgh, Chester and Bushey. Grant said: ‘We are reaching the end of our five- year plan and it is now time to start focusing on the next strategic plan.’
This will be driven forward through the departments at BOSVF focused on key areas of the fleet market, such as SMEs, corporate business, public sector, affinity, brokers, rental, agency, dealer and manufacturer schemes.
Because it is involved in such a vast range of areas, Grant stresses the importance of ‘Chinese walls’ keeping different sections completely separate.
He said: ‘You could have a customer who goes out to tender and goes to several parts of our business. Therefore, there are several opportunities to win it, but they must be kept separate.
‘That is why we have separate sales forces and, for example, our corporate team would get no advantage over our broker or agency team. Why would we disadvantage brokers or agencies when they account for 50,000 vehicles, which is the same as a top 20 leasing firm? We wouldn’t jeopardise that.’
While residual values need to be set in stone to protect all the businesses, they are then free to work separately on margins and on how they will try to win contracts. Grant added: ‘Above all, integrity is always there.’
George Grant: profile
Ambitious growth targets in five-year plan
WITH a new business plan being put in place, Grant wants to focus on several key areas.
He said: ‘We must focus on being a low-cost provider, which in part will come from consolidating our IT infra- structure and investing in new technology products. This will allow us to grow without increasing headcount.
‘Also, through our knowledge of drivers and customers, we will push to provide complete customer solutions, including white label products.’
Potential services thought to be being considered could include fuel cards as well as a pan-European offering.
Grant added: ‘Now that we have spent five years getting the business to the right scale, we want to spend the next five years bringing new innovations and worthwhile products to market. We still believe there is a lot to be done using IT and web-based facilities. We also have significant skills in reporting and compliance, which we can offer to customers such as brokers and agents.’
These plans are backed by ambitious growth targets, which mean the company wants to grow in each of its markets by 30% a year until it has at least a 30% market share. As a result, it is likely the firm will pass the benchmark 100,000-vehicle barrier for its own fleet during 2006.
But taking its entire fleet into account, its ability to help other firms to grow their own fleets is likely to mean its hidden share of the market will increase even further.