Author: Sarah Finley
The BBC’s weekly The Boss series profiles a different business leader from around the world. This week we speak to Charlie MacGregor, founder of student accommodation group The Student Hotel.
Scot Charlie MacGregor says he will never forget watching the boats full of desperate refugees and illegal migrants trying to come ashore on the Greek island of Lesbos.
“Some boats didn’t know where they were going, so would end up on the rocks,” says the 42-year-old. “Some [of those onboard] didn’t even make it.
“The lucky ones that did were often terrorised, not only by the journey, but [fearing] what would happen to them next.”
This was in October 2015, when more than 2,000 people in unauthorised boats were arriving on Lesbos every single day, most of them Syrians escaping civil war.
Charlie was a volunteer on the beaches, helping to direct the boats safely ashore, and then offer the men, women and children water, food and other assistance.
He had been moved to fly to Lesbos to help after a friend had posted on Facebook about the situation just a few weeks earlier.
“As a dad with two kids my heart really went out to these families that were trying to get to the island,” he says. “There were young kids, women, all traumatised after fleeing war-torn countries.”
In going to Lesbos Charlie had taken time off from his day job as founder and boss of student accommodation company The Student Hotel (TSH).
Today the Scottish businessman balances his time running TSH with helping to lead the charity he co-founded in 2016, Movement On The Ground.
The charity helps refugees “from the moment they arrive in Europe, until they’re safe and sound in their new home country”.
Born and raised in Edinburgh, Charlie says that “student accommodation is in his blood”.
His father had built student homes for the University of Edinburgh in the 1980s, and Charlie started his career working on those building sites at the tender age of 16.
A few years later he used two loans – one from a bank, and one from his dad – to launch his own student accommodation company in Scotland.