Simon is co-owner and director of Glasgow-based social research and consulting firm FMR Research Ltd, a Visiting Fellow at Durham Business School and an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Marketing at the University of Strathclyde. He is also Book Reviews Editor for SRA News.
What was your childhood ambition?
I don’t believe I had strong ambitions as a child. I was good at sciences at school and my father was an engineer, so studying Mechanical Engineering at Loughborough seemed a logical step. But after 12 months I realised that engineering would not be my vocation.
When did a social research career hove into view?
In 1992 I moved to Scotland with consulting firm DHP to set up the firm’s Scottish operations. I found myself leading on public sector consultancy projects, in contrast to my largely private sector experience up until then. Later in the 1990s I did a PhD in social science at the University of Strathclyde. After that I was hooked.
How many jobs have you had?
My first proper job was for Perkins Engines (found in most Massey Ferguson tractors and JCB diggers) initially as a Market Analyst, than as a Marketing Manager. Then three years as Marketing Manager within the Northern Engineering Industries group in Newcastle until made redundant through corporate re-structuring. At the age of 29 I vowed never to work for a corporate again. My next six months were spent as a self employed antiques trader – not very successfully since I tended to want to keep all the best stuff.
For a change I then applied my experience and skills as Marketing Director of the DHP consultancy, at the same time enrolling on the Executive MBA at Durham Business School. Three years later I enrolled for the PhD, leaving DHP to become a self-employed researcher and consultant, simplifying my working life as much as possible (no staff, no growth ambitions, just some very good clients) in order to create the funds and flexibility to complete a PhD while still putting bread on the table. Since then this has grown into FMR Research Ltd.
What was your best professional moment?
More of a surprise than a planned achievement. This was my firm’s work on support for asylum seekers in the UK, commissioned by a Scottish regional body, but quoted in a parliamentary debate. Probably everyone working in social research wants to feel they are making a difference and on this occasion I like to think we did.
I expect this is the same as for other people running research and consulting firms, it is having to let people go. I had to do this in the previous recession as well. Doesn’t make it easier.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
An easy question to answer - Dr Barney Glaser, the co-originator of grounded theory method. I met Barney several times during the course of my PhD and my supervisor was one of his acolytes. I found his perspectives a breath of fresh air. I bought into his logic in understanding social processes. I’d heard, and I hope that this is true, that Barney once established a bank, having worked out the social processes between a bank and its clients. Something to do with ‘front’. I can’t help but admire people at the top of their game and especially those with a bent towards the unconventional.
If/when you get on Desert Island Discs, what will be your book and what your luxury?
The book would be Robin Harvie’s ‘Why We Run: a story of obsession.’ It ticks the boxes on several levels and it sits there as a pleasure currently postponed. The luxury would be my DJ Kit. Uninterrupted time with a few boxes of 12" vinyl, my tricked Technics 1210s, and Allen and Heath mixer would be, er, nice.
Interview by William Solesbury, July 2011