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Meet our Members – Kevin Milne

Meet our Members – Kevin Milne Posted on 16 September 2022

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen

In our regular feature, we find out about members of the Scottish Decorators’ Federation. This time, it’s Kevin Milne, who is owner of Lawrence Milne Decorators Ltd.

What’s your background?

My grandfather Lawrence Milne started the company in 1937, with my father Brian taking over in the 1970s. My mother Anne also worked in the family business. When I was a teenager, I knew in the back of my mind that I probably would be involved in the business in some way, but my parents never pushed me in that direction at all. Obviously, I helped out when I was a teenager during the summer holidays. I washed vans, painted fences and I was even up scaffolding painting fascias and soffits. 

But when I left school, it was to study quantity surveying at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. After graduating, I was lucky to get a job with a sub-sea contractor and was taken on to its graduate training scheme. I saw all aspects of the business and, after two years, worked in the Business Development department tendering for work. I also had a few trips offshore on some of their dive support boats and I got a really good insight into how a global business operates. But after five and half years, in 2002, the time seemed right to join the family business as Contracts Manager. I then became a partner, and I am now owner and Managing Director.

What’s your speciality?

I always say that we don’t like to specialise in just one aspect of the business – we cover a wide spectrum of work really, from domestic to commercial. Around 60 per cent of our business does come from new builds though, so we have specialised Ames Tapers on the team, and we take on trainee Ames Tapers too. New builds have always been a big part of the mix of work we do, and things are very busy just now. 

When did you join the SDF?

My father joined in the 1970s, but became heavily involved in the late 1990s, and became President in 2003. 

What’s the best thing about the Federation?

I guess it’s the wealth of knowledge at the end of the phone when you need it. We contacted Neil Rogers (the CEO) a lot during the Covid-19 pandemic and without his help I am not sure how we would have navigated our way through. 

How has the Federation changed?

I asked my dad about this, and he can’t remember there being an annual dinner and awards in his time. It’s quite a big deal now, especially with the trade show as well. The organisation is a lot more involved in training now too.

What’s been the biggest challenge in your career?

Every week is a challenge! Seriously though, we have overcome some big hurdles in the past – the business has been going for 85 years, so there have been tough times. In my lifetime I’ve experienced the financial crash of 2008, the Covid-19 pandemic and now the fallout from that and the war in Ukraine is rising fuel costs. You just have to adapt and the business will continue. During the pandemic, everyone was painting their garden fences and putting up wallpaper, so our retail side was booming. Now that lockdown is over, our shop is doing less trade, so we closed the Aberdeen branch to concentrate on our one remaining store in Ellon, and the trade side of things is busier than ever. 

My job in the oil industry gave me plenty of transferable skills that I have used here. The main one is knowing how to get the best out of people. I also know what it’s like to be an employee. Many family firms never experience that, so I know how the workforce expects to be treated. We must be doing something right – we have so many dependable people on the team. One of our painters has been with us for 45 years.

What’s been your favourite job?

One of the most prestigious jobs I have had the pleasure of working on was His Majesty’s Theatre (pictured above) in the centre of Aberdeen. I had only been involved in the business for a few years when the chance to tender for this major refurbishment came up. 

It’s a great building, and so many people from around here (including me) have fond memories of going to pantos and concerts there. The client was Aberdeen City Council, but we were sub-contracted by Robertson Construction. The theatre was closed for about a year, and an extension was added. We were on the job for 10 months or so. The work was very complex, with a lot of decorative paintwork to be carried out, as well as hand-printed wallpaper to be hung. I get a real sense of pride that we were involved in the refurbishment of such an Aberdeen landmark.

What are your long-term plans for the business?

I have no immediate plans to grow the business. I think we are at the optimum size right now, and I want to be able to continue to offer the level of quality and service that we have always done. I don’t want to jeopardise that in any way. 

What about your personal life?

My wife Alison and I recently celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary, and we have two incredible children, Lucy (13) and Oliver (14). I would never push them into the business – they should choose what they want to do in life. Oliver is a talented bagpipe player and is in a pipe band, while Lucy is a fantastic Highland dancer and performs at Highland games and dancing competitions across the country.

We recently moved from our home in Aberdeen city centre back to Ellon. We had been thinking about getting back into the country, and the pandemic proved that you can really work from anywhere. Our head office happens to be in Ellon, but it’s not all work and no play. I love getting out on my gravel bike to explore the many trails in the area.