Daniel Turner, managing director of William Turner, third-generation family business, manufacturer and supplier of school ties and accessories, talks about the secrets to running a family business and reaching their 50th anniversary.
What is the best thing about working for a family business?
Working for a family business brings many positives. There’s the sense of absolute trust; no hidden agendas and total commitment. When you work with your family you instinctively tap into one another’s strengths, so whilst my brother John and I are very similar we have different skill sets and that’s what makes our business work. There is an important heritage to family businesses and personally it’s the link with my grandfather, William Turner, and father and I have a strong bond with both. I’m lucky enough to have worked with my own father for many years and I am now a custodian for future generations of our family coming into our business. Having that sense is a fulfilling responsibility.
The importance of Succession Planning
The process of succession planning can take years and we’ve been through it ourselves. It’s a potentially hazardous time and vital that people earn their positions on merit and their desire to do the job, not just because they carry the family name. Thankfully my brother, and I never felt any pressure to join the business, and we all get on. We’re a firmly established business but it’s important for us to make our own decisions and to be our own people, rather than just fall into how the business has worked in the past. So, we’re moving steadily rather than racing for change.
We’ll have to start considering succession planning in the future as the next generation isn’t too far away. We’re considering a family constitution, outlining some ‘rules’ and expectations for future generations. It could be different with cousins coming into the business rather than siblings and we’ll have to bear that in mind. But seeing who will go on to who work in the business will be interesting out of our seven children. In order to run and share a business with your family it’s vital to get on, but protections have to be put in place should anything change. The best way to protect the business is by implementing shareholders agreements.
Values and Culture
Our current values very much match the values of my father and grandfather which have been passed down and sit at the core of our business. Although we’re a family business it’s not just made up of our family; we have so many siblings, mums, dads, aunts, uncles, and even husbands and wives who work in the firm. Dad had a close relationship with so many of the staff – so much so, that there were lots of tears at his retirement in 2011.
Value External Senior People
Bringing in other senior non-family hires can be tricky but we’ve been very lucky as our sales director has been with the company for nearly 40 years. Over the last 5 years we’ve grown significantly. In terms of employing other senior non-family employees, we’ve recently hired a non-exec chairman who is helping steer and guide us. With regards to the future, I want us to be a family-led company not a family-run company. We want to bring people into the business who challenge us and bring us on that share our values.
Have a Growth Plan
We take a very long term view of the business but can’t be too protective of the status quo. Circumstances change and opportunities arise. We tend to be risk averse and believe in slow steady organic growth. However, we’ve started to plant the seeds of an export side to the business and hopefully future generations will thank us for that.
Decision Making is Vital
This can be difficult as you have to tread carefully around other family members’ feelings – there’s a lot at stake if you have a fall out. It can be easier but sometimes that means the right check and balances aren’t in place and poor choices made. Since we’re a family-led company, all but the most strategic decisions should be made by the management team. We’re building the business and have serious intentions to grow it.
Innovation keeps the business relevant
Again, a trade-off between risk-taking and the status quo has to be considered. We are in a market which traditionally doesn’t do too much innovation and with three directors short on external experience, we have to work hard to bring new ideas in. We network and see as many similar businesses as possible, and we always listen to customers. Innovation comes through hiring talented people.