WED 27TH MAY 2020


Bringing the family business community together

The Driving Force Of Family Firms

4th June 2019 Paul Andrews

Check out the findings from our innovative journey around some of the UK’s leading family firms as part of our annual Family Business Road Trip

Family businesses are the engine room of the UK economy.  Provenance, history, heritage, passion, entrepreneurial spirit, integrity and a long term view of success are just some of the qualities that family led businesses across the UK share. 

Their contribution to their communities reaches well beyond creating employment and generating wealth. Community support and philanthropic endeavours are part of their lasting legacy.

Each year for the past six years Family Business United (‘FBU’) has undertaken an innovative journey around some of the UK’s leading family firms as part of an annual Family Business road Trip that is quite simply all about putting the family business sector on the map.  Supported by a great group of sponsors,  PwC, Seven Investment Management, Vistage UK, Western Pension Solutions, Gorvins, Plan Insurance and Birketts, the route was set and 2019 was a fantastic eight week journey full  of insight, innovation, pride and passion too. 

The Scottish leg of the 2019 road trip was in an Audi supplied by Lookers in Glasgow whilst the six week tour of England was in a Jaguar provided by Sturgess Motor Group, a fourth generation family firm dating back to 1897 from Leicester.  Both cars were covered in sponsor logos which really helped the car stand out on the journey and form the focus of conversations the length and breadth of the country.

As Paul Andrews, Founder and Managing Director of FBU explains, “This is by far my favourite event of the year and a real privilege and honour to go behind the scenes with families that are proud of what they do and our visits give them a chance to really explain what they do and showcase their products and services.  Family firms are the lifeblood of many communities around the country and it was a pleasure to see the way they work and their pride in what they do too."

"Overall we drove over 3,000 miles and it was worth each and every one of them as the diversity and depth of what family firms do is outstanding.  We visited 61 family businesses and collectively they have been trading for over 4,700 years, employ  over 15,000 people and generate over £2.6 billion turnover annually.  These firms are not only important employers, wealth creators and community supporters but fundamentally generate significant levels of income across the country too.”

As well as gaining an insight into the businesses the Family Business Road Trip provides a great opportunity to take the pulse of the sector and to understand first hand some of the challenges facing family firms today. 

So what is on the agenda? 

Family firms are responding to current issues associated with the environment and focusing on sustainable business practices, investing where appropriate to increase speed and efficiency, increase production and reduce waste.  Family firms are also looking at ways to deal with the growing challenges associated with the ‘plastic revolution’ and doing some really interesting things to make a real difference going forward.

Furthermore, due to some of the challenges with an economy that is close to full employment, some firms are finding it hard to recruit and retain the necessary people for their businesses and as a response are coming up with innovative ways of working, trialling new methods such as the length of the working week, loading hours in seasonal periods when production needs to increase and allowing more time off in the quieter periods and offering different incentives to make working for them better than other employers locally too.  As Paul adds, “Just from walking around the businesses we visited you could sense the commitment and pride of staff working in the businesses, many, as generations of their own families have done before them, and there was a real sense of drive and determination too.  People clearly enjoy what they do and care about how they do it too.”

The topic of succession is often synonymous with family firms and it will come as no surprise that it featured in discussion at many of the businesses we visited but it was evident that it is being discussed, possibly moreso now than ever before, and is firmly on the family business agenda.  Not all firms visited have a next generation in waiting, either because they are too young or are currently away pursuing their own careers and learning skills that at some stage may be of benefit to the family firm whilst others have the next generation involved already with development plans in place to help them learn and grow into management and leadership roles going forward.  Succession and all of the implications are part of the conversation, something that is great to see. 

One of the other key themes in 2019 was around purpose and legacy and whether or not the family business is actually considered as part of the legacy that in due course will be left behind.  Obviously it is easy to generalise but on the whole, the younger businesses tend to be focused on growth and making the business sustainable first and foremost whilst the older, multi-generational family firms talk more openly about being custodians of the business for future generations, seeking to pass it on in a better state than when it was inherited.  What is positive is the long term view that most of the businesses we visited are taking too.

In essence there were some salient points that came up throughout the journey too:

  1. Building a sustainable business is a priority

  2. Family firms benefit from incredible staff loyalty and commitment

  3. History and heritage is important but alone does not guarantee a future

  4. Investment for the future is vital

  5. Innovation is important but only when it serves a real purpose

  6. Continued business evolution is important

  7. Communication is key

  8. Balancing the needs of the business and the family is important

  9. It is a competitive world out there and there is no room for complacency

  10. Risk management needs to take into account all aspects of risk, notably the cyber threat

  11. Family governance is always going to be important

  12. Social media is an integral part of business life today and successful family firms are embracing it

The 2019 road trip covered a truly diverse cross-section of businesses – transport and logistics, restaurants, funeral directors, motor dealerships, manufacturers, food producers, builders and professional services to name just some – but what was really apparent at all the family firms that we visited was their passion for what they do.  Family firms are not only the engine room of the UK economy they are businesses that care, with a deep rooted passion and pride for what they do on a daily basis, irrespective of the sector they are in.  As Paul continues, “The road trip is a real insight into the world of business each year and 2019 was no exception.  I am honoured to be invited into the family businesses and to see first-hand what they do.  Adding into the mix the story and values that underpin what they do is an extra layer of insight that adds to the essence of each family firm and what makes them who they are as a business today.  Taking the history and the heritage and then adding into the mix the investment and innovation that is evident across the UK is also exciting and part of the real fabric of family firms as they plan for the longer term and continue to evolve as their journey continues.”

As Paul concludes, “When it comes to lessons learned, the willingness and drive to succeed clearly came through and the trip was a fantastic way to see and to celebrate the family business sector and it is an honour to champion such a vibrant sector of the UK economy.  Innovative events such as this really do help to put the family business sector on the map, those that are just starting out on their journey and others that have been around for generations.  The road trip is all about seeing real people in real businesses doing what they do best and raising the profile of the sector at the same time.  We are already looking forward to 2020 and another eventful journey of family business discovery and would love to hear from any family firms that would be interested in us visiting.”

Thank you to all the businesses that took part in the 2019 Family Business Road Trip and were part of the journey:

  1. Golden Casket - Read about their 'sweet little mystery' here
  2. Porrelli Ice Cream - Read how they have been 'keeping it cool for generations' here
  3. GAP Group
  4. Murray Capital
  5. PG Paper
  6. The Victor Pizza Company
  7. Shearer Candles
  8. Johnstons of Elgin
  9. The Malcolm Group
  10. Morris & Spottiswood
  11. Robertson Group - Read how they are 'building a family of companies' here
  12. AC Whyte & Co
  13. James Porter & Son
  14. James Donaldson & Sons
  15. Hendersons of Edinburgh
  16. Macsween - Read about how they are 'guardian's of Scotland's national dish' here
  17. Broughtons Removals
  18. Ian Macleod Distillers
  19. Cannonball - Read about their recent 'award success' here
  20. Livingstone International
  21. Apex Hotels
  22. David Manners Motor Group
  23. Morris Lubricants
  24. Moor Hall Hotel
  25. Fracino
  26. Smith of Derby
  27. Drayton Manor Hotel & Theme Park
  28. Silver Mountain
  29. The Petwood Hotel
  30. The Alerter Group
  31. RS Clare
  32. Creamline Dairies
  33. Sanjeev 1979
  34. Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls - Read about the 'wonders of Wigan' here
  35. Smithills Farm
  36. Glossop Cartons
  37. Craven Dunnill Jackfield
  38. Tims Dairy
  39. Astonish
  40. Stephen Walters & Son
  41. Ufford Park Hotel
  42. React Computer Partnership
  43. Challs International
  44. Tuckwells
  45. Rose Calendars
  46. Easigrass
  47. Century Office
  48. Quest Motor Group
  49. P&A Wood
  50. Wilkin & Sons
  51. Creed Food Service
  52. Bremont
  53. Summerleaze
  54. G Seller & Co
  55. Cedar Nursery
  56. Sturgess Motor Group
  57. Millers of Haxby
  58. Bence of Cheltenham
  59. Heathpatch
  60. Milsoms
  61. Just Jigsaws


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