Want to build a business that lasts? Ask the people who have done it. From the fish and chip shop owner to the international motoring retailer, six family entrepreneurs share the number one piece of advice they’d pass on to their successors.
1. Let it go
It’s your business, so it’s normal to feel that you should be doing everything from invoicing to PR. But that’s not sustainable, says Lynis Bassett, founder and director of education recruitment specialist Class People, who works alongside her daughter Naomi. "In order to reach your goals, you need to develop your 'top team' and involve people with different skill sets from yourself.
"In a family business it’s great if you can 'grow your own heroes' but don't be frightened to let them go when they feel the need to fly the nest. When they return, they’ll have a wider range of skill sets and experience."
2. Get your hands dirty
Knowing every aspect of your business is crucial, says Tim Rix, managing director of JR Rix & Sons. Originally founded as a ship owner, 140 years ago, the company now has interests in everything from property development and fuel distribution. "My father always insisted I understood our business from the grassroots up," he says. "Whilst I was studying for a degree in engineering, I took my HGV class 1 licence so I could drive tankers when necessary. I was always taught to be approachable to customers and employees alike. I’ll encourage the next generation to do exactly the same, but after they have gained experience in other businesses before joining Rix."
3. Take your time
If you want your business to last, be patient, advises Shevanne Helmer, founder of luxury accessories brand Helmer, which she runs with daughters Michelle and Danielle. "We are building a business to last a lifetime, so let’s take the time to do it right and build a solid foundation. When we planned to launch in China, we encountered a number of obstacles that really tested my patience, and I had to break down each problem and address it in an objective and logical manner. Taking the time to do that not only avoided a serious crisis within the business, but it helped me to stay calm and successfully solve most of the issues we faced."
4. Don’t worry – be happy
Back in 1975, Ersilio Varese founded the legendary Blue Lagoon Fish and Chip Shop in Glasgow. His son Allesandro is about to pass the business to the next generation. "My advice in a sentence? Remember to enjoy the experience, or it will pass you by. When I was first handed over control, I was so afraid of letting my father down that I didn’t allow myself to enjoy the experience. For my son, I want him to look around and take pride in what has been built before him. He is lucky to have an established business to step into, but the pressure of up keeping the success can be overwhelming. A stressful environment will drive customers away – I learned this the hard way and once I began enjoying my role the atmosphere became happier for me, the staff and our customers."
5. Don’t speculate – communicate
"Like any multi-generational family firm, we've been beset with friction and fallout," says Charlie Field, joint managing director (with his brother Jeremy) of funeral director CPJ Field, founded in 1690. "What breeds that friction and leads to a breakdown in relationships is when people bottle up what's on their minds. So have the strength to have deep and honest conversations. Unless you have the courage to be open and honest with colleagues or family members, you’re just pushing conflict for the future downstream."
6. Listen to those who have been there
Times may be changing fast but experience is always valuable. "One generation needs to make their experience, their knowledge and their wisdom available to the next generation," says Sir Peter Vardy, founder of Safe Families for Children UK and CEO of The Peter Vardy Group. "My own father did that for me before I took over. I’m now concentrating on charitable aims, having founded Safe Families for Children with the aim of providing early intervention to prevent children from needlessly being placed in care. But I’m still here to offer my own sons Richard and Peter advice. If one generation mentors the next, there will be fewer failing businesses and more which are on the path to great success."