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Keeping All The Pieces Of The Puzzle Together At Gibsons

2019 marked 100 years since Harry Percy Gibson formed H. P. Gibson & Sons Limited. Now into their fourth generation with Harry’s great-granddaughter at the helm, Gibsons are proud of their British heritage and that they are still providing fun family pastimes for all ages, 102 years on.

The team and product offering have grown a lot over the last ten decades, however their values remain the same. ‘Bringing people together’ underpins everything they do: from encouraging people to play games, and creating a thriving working culture, to supporting a local children’s charity and valuing the relationships with their suppliers and customers.

Paul Andrews got to meet fourth generation leader, Kate Gibson, to find out more.

Kate grew up in the family business and remembers well the achievements and hard work put in by the previous generations. One of her first memories of the business was the visits during the school holidays with her cousins, earning pocket money assembling and packing games. Kate remembers fondly being given games to play with and test, all part of life in a business that is all about games and puzzles!

Joining the family business was never originally part of the plan for Kate.

As she explains, “It wasn’t something I had given proper consideration to, possibly because when I was younger, I didn’t fully appreciate enough what it was like to own and run your own family business. My Dad, Michael, was busy working hard to make a success of the business and there was never any pressure for me to get involved. I initially pursued my own career and headed off to university. After graduating I worked in the charity sector and other marketing roles.”

Things changed in 2005 when Kate joined her Dad on a trip to the Autumn Fair at the Birmingham NEC. An Operations role had arisen in the business and with Kate considering her next career step, they decided she should give it a go. After a year and with a great foundation in the business, Kate transitioned into a different role playing to her strengths in marketing, product development and strategic insights.

It was evident that Kate added value, bringing structure and people together and creating the culture that has become the very essence of what Gibsons is about today. In 2016, with Michael close to retiring, Kate and her Dad spent much time considering the future of the business. Kate continues, “There was a bit of soul searching and contemplating the responsibility that lay ahead. I have two young girls and I remember the long hours my Dad had worked. Work-life balance is, and always has been, important to me so we formulated a plan to take us forward making changes to ensure there is the right balance and that I am there for my daughters too. In October 2016, I stepped up to the role of Managing Director and have never looked back.’

For Kate, the role offered many challenges, but presented huge opportunities too. “It is a fantastic place to work. I love so many things about the business, why we do what we do, our purpose, and the people that we interact with each and every day. The business has energised me and the fact that we produce such fantastic products is great – there is always a buzz when I see one of our boxes on the shelf too.”

Although her Dad has now stepped down and left Kate to run the business, he remains a sounding board and the company Chairman, so still retains a limited involvement today. As Kate continues, “We put a plan in place and agreed the way forward. Dad stepped back, reducing his day-to-day involvement in the business and let go. This was not easy for him as he had worked so hard for so long in the business but he did, helped enormously by the fact that he trusted us and even today, he remains an important asset because his knowledge and experience is so valuable. He was also very supportive and helpful to me in transitioning to the leadership role too.”

As Kate stepped up to lead the business, she set out on a journey to transform and further build on the legacy of her father, empowering and trusting the team whilst building a broader understanding of the market and developing her skills. As Kate adds, “I sought a coach and joined a leadership group that added so much to my development and I also regularly attend conferences to help me continue to learn. I have prioritised our sustainability and championed our CSR programme ensuring we are truly part of, as well as helping the community.

It has not been easy, and the pandemic has posed some challenges for Gibsons, as it has for many other family firms. “Managing change and growth can be daunting, but for me it has all been about remembering why we do what we do” continues Kate.

“The pandemic and the need to review the way that we operate afforded us opportunities to look at everything we do. We thoroughly reviewed all of our systems, processes and contingency plans ensuring we embrace technology to really help us future proof the business, whilst appreciating the implications on morale and team dynamics with hybrid working practices. It also reinforced our values and the culture of the business which is important and will remain so going forward.”

Like many family firms, values are integral to defining the business and Kate oversaw a review of the core values at Gibsons. Staff were consulted and the core values reaffirmed as Trust, Collaboration and Community. As Kate explains, “These values are so important to us as a family business and it is important that they are integrated into what we do and the way that we do it. It creates our culture and the very vibe of the organisation and helps us move forward with purpose and clarity.”

“Obviously these values need to be demonstrated too and it is important to me that it all starts at the top with the way that we manage and lead the business too.”

The audience for Gibsons products is continually evolving but it is all about bringing people together. As Kate explains, “Traditionally our customer demographic for jigsaw puzzles has been predominantly retired females who puzzle as a hobby, but over the last few years this has changed with the growth in mindfulness and many younger people stepping away from their screens to relax. We have had to change and adapt to the new audience and to ensure that we remain relevant to as many people as possible. Puzzles are tactile and offer the chance to sit, reflect and just ‘be’ for a moment in amongst our busy lives. Add to the mix our range of games and it is all about family and fun too. We’ve seen huge growth of the brand Internationally too and new audiences discovering what we do.”

“I love the business and what it has become. I have a real sense of pride driving something that has lasted over a hundred years and our centenary was truly special. At times, I have had to dig deep and believe in myself, learning as I go and developing the more extrovert side of my personality, but this has really paid off."

"I have found my place and been able to create a work-life balance that works for me, the business and the family.”

As Kate concludes, “It is an honour and a privilege to continue what my great grandfather started back in 1919. Every day is different and there are times when running the family business brings challenges to overcome, but primarily there is pride and excitement at being part of something very special. Working at Gibsons means being open to adapting and learning new things wherever we can, ensuring that we move forward and get better at what we do. Games, puzzles, people and play just about sums up what we do here, but the most important of these is people.”

“The Gibsons Gang are at the heart of our company, their passion driving us forward. I can’t wait to see what the next 100 years bring!”

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