These were the things that shone through at the first East Anglia Family Business Conference held in November, sponsored by Family Business United, Birketts and Scrutton Bland. Dozens of family businesses attended, sharing their experiences and issues on a day that allowed delegates to learn from each other on the particular issues that can come up when the business is in the family.
Family Business United CEO and Founder, Paul Andrews, hosted a fantastic line up of guest contributors, all of them from family owned businesses, some at differing stages than others, but each one providing incredibly valuable input to the listeners. This was then complemented by interactive workshops, each of which focused on a particular aspect, allowing attendees to pick and choose to their liking.
James Tuckwell, of P Tuckwell agricultural machinery specialists, took us enjoyably through the history of that company, with admiral honesty for a third generation owner whose father was in the room. James was very clear on several important points for any family business. Whilst the family’s culture can be vital to the core of the business, he said, nevertheless cultural change must be embraced in subtle ways for the good of the business, including adapting to mobility of labour and our ever changing lifestyles. We have to find new ways to inspire our people, he concluded.
Jane Knapp, CEO of Phillips Bros Woodshavings, established in 1894, sportingly allowed herself to be interviewed in front of the assembled delegates on everything she and her business had been through, and how it had become an award-winning success. The focus here was on strategy and succession, and again we were grateful for the honest views. Transitioning a family business from one generation to the next is never easy, she admitted, but a key aspect is to try and remove the emotion from the discussion. She recommended formal documentation to set out the family’s view of what it means to have shares in the family business, and to have real positions for new family members to be involved. She too identified maintenance of culture as the biggest challenge of all. Communication remains key.
Finally, there was a panel discussion for the benefit of the room, with John Breheny (Breheny Civil Engineering), Claire Martinsen (Breckland Orchard) and Charlotte Gatward (Gatwards of Hitchin) giving up their time to be interrogated about a number of things, including balancing the work and family aspects of life when those things are so closely intertwined, embracing social media through the business, engaging with the new generations of family, customers and employees, and what it means to have your name above the door. This interactive session allowed the delegates to put their questions to those in a similar position, and FBU and Birketts were also able to give the benefit of their experiences.
Finally, smaller workshops that followed were reported by those who attended as a great success, allowing businesses to have more intimate conversations with other family business owners and advisors in a friendly environment. Frankly, there is nothing better than being able to share your concern with a supportive room and get not only helpful hints but also generous offers of assistance. This is what the family business community is all about.
The date is already set for 13 November 2019 for the next conference, so keep an eye out for invitations to that. In the meantime, we hope to see you on the East Anglia Family Business Day on 31 January 2019, and on the East Anglia Family Business Roadshow in 13-17 May 2019. To register your interest go to www.birketts.co.uk/register and select ‘family owned and managed business’ or email [email protected].