Irvine Laidlaw at "European Wind Energy Association Offshore 2015" in Copenhagen,
Irvine Laidlaw at "European Wind Energy Association Offshore 2015" in Copenhagen, Photo: Mogens Engelund, Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Irvine Laidlaw (b. 1942) is a Scottish businessman and philanthropist. His father was a textile mill owner in Banffshire, north-east Scotland. Irvine was privately educated at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, and from school progressed to study economics at Leeds University. He then studied for an MBA at Columbia University in New York where he was ‘primed for entrepreneurial activity’.

On completing the MBA, Irvine remained in New York, learning the book trade with the publisher Doubleday. In 1967 he returned home to run the Doubleday’s book club business in the UK. He resigned in 1971 to set up his own business. After several false starts, he entered the newsletter business in 1973, setting up the Institute for International Research. The business changed tack in 1978 to focus on conference organisation. Business boomed as IIR opened offices all over the world. When sold for £768 million in 2005, it had sales of £313 million and was making an annual profit of £48 million. Irvine Laidlaw was now a very rich man free to pursue his many interests in business, politics and philanthropy. As a staunch Conservative party supporter and major donor, he was made a life peer in 2004, becoming Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay.

Irvine Laidlaw appears to many people a man of contradictions, not least in engaging in philanthropy while substantially avoiding UK taxes, in caring for the less fortunate while living a lavish lifestyle with several luxury homes, yachts, horses and cars, and in supporting education as a means of poor children lifting themselves out of poverty while giving to establishment causes like Glyndebourne and the Scottish Opera. There is no doubt, however, that he is sincere in his beliefs and generous in the support he lends to many good causes. His gifts include £9 million to the University of Leeds to help pay for a new library and £2 million to the Prince’s Trust in support of young entrepreneurs. In an interview with The Scotsman in 2006, he vowed that he would spend the rest of his life giving away his entire fortune.

In the North East, Irvine Laidlaw is a major sponsor of Academy Schools, beginning in 2007 when he donated £2 million towards the rebuilding of the Excelsior Academy, located in Scotswood, one of Newcastle’s most deprived areas. The Laidlaw Schools Trust currently operates six academy schools in Newcastle and Sunderland. His financial support is ongoing and has increased over the years. In 2013 he donated £249,989, in 2016 he donated £830,468, near doubling to £1.5 million in 2017. In total, his financial support to the trust since its establishment exceeds £10 million. The registration of the Irvine Laidlaw Foundation in 2017 with the remit of supporting education in the UK and overseas has opened a promising new chapter in his philanthropic career.


Dispatches. 'Cameron's Money Men', Channel 4 Production, 29th September 2008.

Juncar, N. (2007). Making a start, Evening Chronicle, January 25th. 

Laidlaw Schools Trust. (2007). Annual Accounts, Available here (Accessed: 25/08/2018).

Laidlaw Schools Trust. (2017). Annual Accounts, Available here (Accessed: 25/08/2018).

The Scotsman. (2016). Tycoon Laidlaw to give away fortune, Available here (Accessed: 03/09/2018). 

University of Durham. (2018). The Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship Programme, Available here (Accessed 03/09/2018).

Wikipedia. (2018). Irvine Laidlaw, Baron Laidlaw, Available here (Accessed: 03/09/2018).