Family values

Families have been the foundations of some of the world’s greatest businesses. GrowthBusiness talks to five successful companies which have drawn strength from family ties while remaining open to fresh ideas.

Families have been the foundations of some of the world’s greatest businesses. GrowthBusiness talks to five successful companies which have drawn strength from family ties while remaining open to fresh ideas.

Families have been the foundations of some of the world’s greatest businesses. GrowthBusiness talks to five successful companies which have drawn strength from family ties while remaining open to fresh ideas.

Name: Sudarghara Dusanj
Title: CEO
Company: Cains (brewery & pub chain)
Turnover: £42 million
Est: 1850 (taken over in 2002 by Dusanj brothers)

I’ve been working with my family for 25 years this weekend. It all started when I was 17 and we bought our first chip shop.

Our success was down to having a very strong belief in what we were doing – never just keeping things ticking along. Mum was all about quality: she always made sure we had the best fish. Dad was the leadership, the inspirational side, coming up with ideas. So every part pulled together.

My brother Ajmail and I are fast learners: we’ve gone from chip shops to [soft drinks business] Gardner-Shaw to Cains. We’ve never stopped developing and learning, or taking on new challenges.

Our responsibilities have been split from the early days. My brother cooked and I served, and that’s the way it’s carried on. He’s the operations, I’m the customer-facing side of the business. We both work to our strengths.

Of course, sometimes we push each other and challenge each other; we’re brothers! But we’re both pretty logical with our approach. It’s never about one being right and the other wrong, it’s about working on how we can improve the business and serve the customer better. My dad has a great line: ‘Treat staff like family and customers like royalty.’

Name: Mike Richards
Title: MD
Company: Richards Gray (property search business)
Turnover: £17 million
Est: 1988

I started this as a back-room business with my wife 20 years ago, and now we have 340 employees around the country. Most of our work has been providing conveyancing information to solicitors, but we’re now also among the leading HIP [home information pack] providers.

My son is a co-director, and his wife also works in the business, along with her mother and sister. People have met and got married through the company. It’s only in the past two years that we’ve started advertising for staff as whenever we needed people, there’d be cousins or brothers or friends looking for employment. We have a very low turnover of staff: until 18 months ago, hardly anybody had left the business.

When you have that family ethos, taking tough decisions can be hard. In the property downturn of the early 1990s, we had to let a couple of people go who were friends. That takes a lot of guts, and it is not a pleasant decision to make.

Another challenge is that the business engulfs you. The other month we went out as a family to celebrate my daughter’s new job at [the hair salon] Toni & Guy. After about ten minutes she chucked her napkin down and said: ‘I’ve had enough of this, all you’re talking about is HIPs!’

You have to realise there’s a world out there that doesn’t revolve around the business.

Name: Mark Shashoua
Title: CEO
Company: Expomedia (AIM-listed trade events organiser)
Turnover: £50 million (approx)
Est: 2000

There’s always good and bad with a family business. The good thing was that I got an insight into a certain type of businessman that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. My father was an old-school tycoon with white hair and a big fat cigar.

On the other hand, there are no office hours and you push yourself much harder than you would if it wasn’t a family business. A lot of the success of family businesses is driven by that pressure.

My father and uncle worked together for decades. Father made his fortune by being the first in new markets, like Russia and China. They founded [trade exhibitions group] ITE in the late 1980s and it had nearly 500 staff and profits of £9 million when it was sold nine years ago.

I had worked my way up the ranks of ITE to the position of chief executive when we exited. In 2000 we launched a new company, Expomedia, which went public a year later.

Some third- or fourth-generation family businesses have an enormous amount of politics. The great thing about a true family business is that there are no politics. Yes, you argue but you argue openly in the knowledge that you are still a family.

Name: Andrew Stoddart
Title: MD
Company: Above & Beyond (architect)
Turnover: £1 million (approx)
Est: 1999

I set up Above & Beyond in 1999. My wife Christine, a marketing consultant, first got involved when she helped the company win a major contract in 2001. However, it wasn’t until last year, when I bought out her marketing consultancy, that she joined the business full-time.

As soon as we started working together, we made sure there were firm boundaries. Our roles and responsibilities are well defined and we work in different areas of the office except when we have meetings. Just as importantly, we agreed that as soon as we’re on home territory we don’t talk about work.

For Christine to blend into the office culture, it was vital that she wasn’t seen as “a spy in the camp”. What we have tried to work on is that she is respected by other team members in terms of what she contributes to the business, instead of her relationship with me. It’s important that she challenges me, where appropriate, in front of the team as well as in private.

Now I can’t imagine not working together. Christine’s technical knowledge, strategic awareness and the level of support she brings to the business are invaluable. We also have a better home life because we understand each other so well, both personally and professionally.

Name: Jonathan Stoner
Title: MD
Company: Phillip Stoner Jewellery (jewellery retailer & designer)
Turnover: undisclosed
Est: 1982

From the age of 15, I started going to work with my father [Phillip] in the summer holidays, learning how to produce jewellery. Within a couple of years of leaving school I decided to join the business and asked Dad for a job.

There was never any pressure put on me. In fact, Dad made it clear that if I was starting, I was starting at the bottom. Although he drove his car to work most days he didn’t want me to travel with him, so I got the bus like everyone else. I was being paid £50 a week, so there definitely wasn’t any incentive there. I had to get the respect of the people I was working with.

I’m now 34, and I’ve been a director of the company for the past six years. At the end of last year I was made MD, but Dad has still got an interest in the business and always will have. It’s great to have him to turn to.

I’ve never been impatient in wanting to run the company from a young age. You have to let things happen naturally. I’ve seen it happen with other family businesses: sons and daughters are pushed into the business too fast, and before they know it they have big salaries and nice cars, but what they don’t have is the respect of the people around them. You have to earn that.

See Also: Our columnist Ken Jacobson on what family businesses can learn from The Godfather.

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.