A successful local businessman, who survived a horrific car crash more than half a century ago, has told how he believes his scrape with death led him to the top of business.
Bob Ferguson from Bonnyrigg, who turned 80 on Tuesday, has been looking back at his incredible business career.
It began back in the early 1960s when Bob was working as a chef. He read a newspaper advert looking for Christmas cards and c alendars salesmen. Doing this part-time, Bob was amazed to make £500. He said: “I decided to put £100 in a bank account and £400 on a deposit for a new car. I started working for myself full-time on August 14, 1964. You might think £100 is not enough to start a company but out I went and asked people how would you like to see your company name on a pen, key rings etc?”
Just six weeks later a serious road accident in Broxburn changed Bob’s life. He said: “I was out in the car with my brother and our families. I went to overtake a bus and my back tyre burst. The car swerved to the right hand side and I bounced off a stone wall, the car overturned and more than 400 pieces of glass shattered on my head.”
Bob spent three weeks in hospital and three weeks convalescing at home. “It was scary, they didn’t think I was going to make it overnight when I arrived,” he said.
“I came out looking like Phantom of the Opera. Like a freak. I thought ‘how am I going to go out and sell to people?’”
After his insurance paid for his written-off car, Bob was left with £5 to his name, but determined to get his life back on track. He said: “I used the fiver to get a hair cut, buy a hat to cover the hole in my head from the crash, a season ticket for the bus, and started again.”
Bob supplied gift items to the Royal Scots to set-up a shop in Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard shop. He then built up his Ferguson’s Business Gifts empire, opening shops in Dundee Street, Bath Street and Portobello High Street in Edinburgh.
In the early 1980s Bob then took a major step in his business career when he bought the old school in Newton Village which he passed every day on the way from his Bonnyrigg home to work in Portobello.
He said: “I converted it into one of the first business centres in the UK. That was a forerunner to Pentlandfield Business Park (near the Bush Estate). The classrooms were turned into workshops, offices, helping people start-up in business.”
Next up was a move to the nine and a half acre Pentlandfield site in the early 1990s, which Bob purchased for around £325,000. He said: “Everything I needed was there but it had lain redundant for three and a half years. We refurbished the entire place, knocked down the greenhouses, and as one office was let we moved on to the next one.
“There were 150/200 people working in the place once it was fully up and running. It was great. Everybody talked about the place and all wanted to be there. Not being big headed but we did a first class job on it.”
The park received awards for helping people into business. Then, in 2007, Bob sold it for a whopping £5.25 million.
Not a bad return for the Bonnyrigg man. He added: “To go from a fiver in my pocket and a hole in my head to millions. I think the hole in the head knocked the nonsense out and the sense in!”
The next year while on a cruise on the QE2 in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Bob’s career took an unexpected turn.
He said: “I got calls to say ‘get your money out of the bank, it’s gone bust’. That was the time of Fred the Shred at the Bank of Scotland.
“I panicked a bit. I came home and bought three properties in a week. The big golf ball at Kinross (former Nato Communications Facility, known as a SATCOM II), the former DHS office in Cowdenbeath and a nuclear bunker at Knockhill.
Bob retired in 2007. Last weekend he celebrated his 80th birthday in style at the Royal Musselburgh Golf Course with 200 guests.