McQueen – An Enterprising Story

The McQueen story is one of enterprise by two Galashiels families – three generations of the McQueen family and three generations of the Gray family. Its history can be traced back to 1845 and a printing company in Galashiels owned by James Brown which was acquired McQueen & Russell.

By 1998, a little over 150 years later, McQueen employed 1,300 staff globally with an annual turnover of £100m – and its corporate headquarters remained in Galashiels.

John McQueen and John Russell, a trained stationer and practical printer respectively, formed a partnership in 1873 that lasted for five years. John McQueen then moved to new premises in Channel Street, Galashiels (now occupied by W.H. Smith). His son, John Stirling McQueen, had planned to become a barrister but joined his father in the business and became the sole partner in 1912. The third generation, Helen Dotte McQueen (a Chartered Accountant), joined McQueen on the death of her father.

The link between the McQueen and Gray families goes back to 1919, probably earlier, as both John Stirling McQueen and Max Gray had served in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers during WWI when Max Gray, a compositor (a hand typesetter), was asked to join the management of the business.

In 1927, McQueen became a limited liability company. All employees were offered the chance to purchase shares in the enterprise, which could be funded by an interest free loan of up to £100, which demonstrated the progressive management thinking at that time.

James (Jimmy) Gray, joined his father in McQueen’s in 1932. During WWII he had also served with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and landed in Normandy on the 2nd assault wave on D-Day, 6th June 1944. On the death of John Stirling McQueen, he was appointed Managing Director with Dotte McQueen acting as Chair of the Board.

The third generation of the Gray family, Michael and Derek, joined their father in McQueen in the 1960s. It was now a thriving printers and stationers which had expanded into selling office furniture and equipment and also included a book shop and gifts.

In 1976, on the retiral of Dotte McQueen, the Gray family bought the printing operation and the stationery and office furniture activities and relocated them to two sites in Galashiels. The print operations and admin moved to part of Buckholm Mill with the stationery and office furniture moving to Albert Place. The Channel Street site, then a prime town centre location, was sold to a property developer.

Apple II (Elaine Gibb)

The 1980’s was a pivotal period for McQueen with the transformation in office equipment including moving from typewriters and adding machines to personal computers. Michael and Derek Gray visited a UK computer exhibition where the choice of PCs was either the Apple II or the Commodore PET; their decision to become an Apple dealer was to have profound impact on the future of the business and by 1982, McQueen employed 53 staff in Galashiels plus 12 in Edinburgh with annual turnover of £2.2m.

Three years later (1985), the world was introduced to DTP (Desk Top Publishing) which, at its heart, comprised the Apple Macintosh computer + Aldus PageMaker software + Adobe Systems Postscript page description language.

The Apple Macintosh – with 256k memory and, for the first time the WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get screen display, and the WIMP (Windows, Icon, Mouse, Pointer) interface that we are all so used to today along with the Apple LaserWriter driven by PostScript – heralded the biggest revolution in printing and publishing since Gutenberg invented moveable type in 1439 – a digital revolution that has since expanded into presentation software and photography and so much more.

McQueen, with the advantage of already being an Apple dealer and with a background in the print industry, understood the huge potential of DTP. A joint venture UK distributorship was formed with Aldus Corp of Seattle and after a visit by the Gray brothers to California, McQueen was appointed as European Hub Distributor for Adobe Systems Inc, who at that time had 35 staff and whose only boxed software products comprised of 13 Macintosh type fonts!

DTP changed the world of conventional printing and publishing and for the next three years, McQueen – who had the second dedicated Apple Centre in the UK, based in Edinburgh – played a crucial role in helping develop the European market as a Distributor (selling a range of DTP software and hardware products to computer dealers) and also acting as the European software manufacturing and fulfilment partner for software publishers.

Print Production at Langlee

This expansion required additional capacity in Galashiels, with McQueen firstly opening a new print production facility at Easter Langlee and, a couple of years later, establishing a large manufacturing and fulfilment hub at Netherdale.

By 1988, the world had changed again and Derek Gray left McQueen to join Aldus Corp as European Vice-President. Adobe’s success continued, and they established their European Sales HQ in Amsterdam. McQueen undertook a strategic review of all its business activities and its capacity for growth. At that time the company had just under 100 staff and an annual turnover of £7m.

Michael Gray and his management team assessed that there was significant growth potential in focussing on being a provider of integrated services to information and technology companies. Over the next two years, this major transformation included selling non-core business activities and investing significantly in new core services to support fast-growing technology companies.

Mcqueen Call Centre in Edinburgh

Over the next decade, McQueen expanded rapidly, both with new service offerings and with global operations. The service offerings included software manufacturing and fulfilment; software and documentation localisation into all European languages; contact centres offering sales and technical support.

McQueen’s clients included major technology enterprises such as Adobe Systems, Aldus Corp, Apple Computers, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola and a host of emerging software publishers.

McQueen’s operational footprint expanded from its Scottish base through acquisition and growth. Firstly, with an acquisition in the Netherlands with a base near Schiphol Airport, then to France and next to Sweden. The acquisition of a major US competitor, with operations in Silicon Valley, California and Nashville, Tennessee, expanded McQueen’s global footprint and also extended the European network with an operation in Shannon, Ireland. Expansion into Asia Pacific was completed with a sales office in Singapore and the opening of call centre operations in Manilla in the Philippines.

By 1998, McQueen employed 1,300 staff globally with an annual turnover of £100m… with its corporate headquarters still in Galashiels.

An approach was made to McQueen by Sykes Enterprises Inc, a U.S. based Nasdaq-quoted enterprise and agreement was reached to merge the two businesses under the Sykes brand.

Thanks to Mike Gray for submitting this story.


Software Manufacturing at Netherdale

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