What does it take to grow a successful family business? Here I share insights from some of the county’s great family firms.
Family businesses have been the mainstay of our economy for centuries. Nearly half (47%) of all UK companies are family firms. They employ close to 12 million people and contribute a quarter of the UK’s gross domestic product. Here in Gloucestershire, there are shining examples across diverse sectors, and I’ve had the privilege to work with many of them over the years. More than half of the businesses on LEAD, our flagship leadership development programme, are family companies.
The most recent issue of Leading, the award-winning magazine from QuoLux, was devoted to the insights and experiences of leaders within family firms. Our contributors reveal many of their game-changing decisions; these are three of the most common:
Involving non-family members in the top team
The leaders of successful, long-standing family businesses, recruit non-family members into key roles. Chris Creed, second-generation Chief Executive of £70m Creed Foodservice, first made that key decision in 2007 and has subsequently strengthened his top team further. Today, while four Creed brothers remain in the Group, four key roles are held by non-family, including Managing Director Philip de Ternant. In addition, Phil Vickery MBE DL has become a non-executive director, further bolstering the breadth of experience and skills across the leadership team.
Formalising systems and structures
It’s not uncommon for firms to evolve in rather ad hoc and unstructured ways. This was one of the challenges faced by Luke Freeman, Joint Chief Executive of MF Freeman. From its roots in farming and plant hire, the firm moved into contracting, civil engineering, developing and housebuilding, forestry and leisure. Restructuring into a Group of companies with division heads reporting into Luke, helped to ‘professionalise’ the business. Once again, Luke has brought in non-family members to create a robust senior team to help deliver their ambitious business plan. The firm has achieved double-digit growth for five successive years.
Focusing on culture
No leader can achieve success alone. As well as establishing a strong top team, an engaged workforce is crucial and is proven to increase productivity. Paul Bence, fifth-generation Managing Director of George Bence Group, understood the importance of bringing the staff at the 164-year-old builders’ merchant onside when he took over as MD in 2011. Introducing an open-door policy, creating opportunities for staff to meet and ask questions of the directors, to share their ideas and see them actioned, are just some of the changes that have significantly shifted the culture towards engagement.
Each of the three businesses mentioned here are exemplars of all three approaches I’ve outlined, as are many more firms that we work with. They are prepared to invest in the development of their leaders, to improve themselves and their companies. Their generosity and willingness to share their experiences offers much for business owners and directors to learn from each other.
Contact me on Stewart.Barnes@quolux.co.uk for a copy of Leading magazine.
This article first appeared in my regular Game Changer column in Gloucestershire Echo & Citizen & www.southwestbusiness.co.uk