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Meet our Members – Clinton Findlay

Meet our Members – Clinton Findlay Posted on 31 July 2023

The Kirk Gallery in Orkney

In our regular feature, we find out about Members of the Scottish Decorators’ Federation. In this issue it’s Clinton Findlay, who runs the Orkney-based family business, Kenneth C Findlay & Sons, with his brother, Alton.

What’s your background?

My dad, Kenny, started the company in 1978. I left school in 1986 with the intention of training as an accountant.
I was accepted into Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen but was then persuaded to stay in Orkney.
I subsequently served my time and have never left.

At 35 I was diagnosed with a serious heart condition. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to carry on painting. My wife Michelle said, ‘You always wanted to be an accountant. Why don’t you start doing that?’ So I did accountancy training and then, thankfully, got treatment and I’m able to paint again. 

My brother Alton started in the business three years after me. He wanted to be a farmer but also ended up in the family firm. My dad retired seven or eight years ago. He still visits the sites, makes himself useful and always likes to hear about what’s happening.

What’s your speciality?

We do a lot of bespoke, one-off buildings like restaurants, shops, hotels and unique houses.  We’re renowned for that and do a lot of work for one developer who is involved in these types or projects.

When did you join the SDF?

We’ve been members for a long time. In fact, I asked my dad and he couldn’t recall the exact date. As long as I’ve been with the company, we’ve been a member.

What’s the best thing about the Federation?

It’s the advice, whether it’s on employment law, wage rates or other matters. Any problems you have, Neil Rogers is just a phone call away. Also, I think the work that we’re doing with the CITB and other organisations to raise awareness and get youngsters into the trade is really important. Recruitment is a huge problem right now.

How has the Federation changed?

There have been big developments, especially in areas such as social media. We can promote the work the Federation does, and let the public see the work that members are doing. They can get verification that our members are professionals who do a good job, which sometimes gets overlooked. Raising the profile of the Federation and the industry is really important. 

What’s been the biggest challenge in your career?

I think that was when our mum died in January 2005. She was quite young and it was really tough. She was ill in 2004 – the same year that my heart condition was diagnosed.

The company was in a bad position at that time too. A huge amount of work was needed by Alton, dad and me to get the whole thing turned around and into the position we’re in now. Over the years, we’ve been lucky and had some really good employees who have helped us along the way.

What’s been your favourite job?

We’ve been really lucky and been involved in a lot of great jobs over the years. For example, we did the renovation of the old Kirkwall Library into a shop, restaurant and music venue. We did another conversion of an old fish market into a small bespoke hotel. Our best project to date is probably the jewellery designer Sheila Fleet’s gallery and cafe in Tankerness, which helped us win SDF Project of the Year in 2020.

What would be your dream job?

We have a massive project coming up at the end of this year, beginning of 2024. It’s an old building in the centre of Kirkwall that’s being turned into a nightclub, music venue, bowling alley, gym and location for small shops. The whole firm is looking forward to getting stuck into that because it’s going to be really interesting and a colossal amount of work. 

What are your long-term plans for the business?

I would like us to carry on as we are. We’re trying to reduce the age profile of our staff and get younger people in. That doesn’t mean letting people go but a lot of us are over 50! My son, Max, is still in school. He might want to come into the company, but that’s not clear yet.
I don’t want us to get much bigger. It’s quality rather than quantity. At the moment Alton’s on site the whole time and I’m able to be on site the majority of the time. I think that makes a huge difference. 

Tell us about life beyond work

I’ve been married to Michelle for 32 years. She’s been a staff nurse in NHS Orkney for 36 years, but is currently training to be a health visitor. She is over halfway through and has another year to go.
Our daughter, Emily, lives in Aberdeen with her boyfriend. She’s a marketing and commerce manager for a major charity.  Emily was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer, when she was 14. She’s had lots of treatment over the years but lives life to the full and is a wonderful young lady. In fact, she was awarded the British Empire Medal by the Queen a few years ago for the work she did in raising funds and cancer awareness among young people in the north of Scotland and Orkney.
My son Max is in S2 and loves playing guitar.
I’ve played the accordion since I was 10 and was even in a dance band in my late teens and early 20s. Occasionally I get together with some friends to play a tune. I’ve also resumed playing golf. I played a lot when I was younger. I’m trying again, but with varying degrees of success!