HR & Management

How to navigate family relationships in business

6 min read

17 February 2016

There are multiple advantages that come with having a family business; benefits that aren’t often found in other enterprises. From building a more personal sense of trust between employees to avoiding the pitfalls of “office politics”, the demonstration of family values in business can be extremely positive for boosting a brand’s reputation.

Currently, first-generation family SMEs are providing 5.5m jobs and are making a sizeable contribution to UK employment. The total value of family businesses to the British economy is £180bn, greater than that of the overall manufacturing, wholesale or retail sectors, highlighting just how vital family businesses are to the UK.

However, working alongside your loved ones can be challenging, and there are certain rules everyone should agree to follow. Mash Direct is a sixth-generation family business and all four of us work extremely closely together. While I head up the business and oversee the farm, my wife Tracy is the company secretary and director, our eldest son Lance is the sales director and Jack, our youngest son, also a director managing the exports and marketing of the business. 

We’re committed to making the most of our personal relationships to improve business growth and achieve success. Family provides two of the most important ingredients of growth: trust and loyalty and the connection between work life and family life definitely provides a strong base to work from.

The team should ultimately share the same goal of making a successful business, demonstrating solidarity across the management team at all times. That being said, when you feel strongly about something it’s easy to let your heart sometimes over rule decisions. That’s why, almost from day one we’ve had a non-executive chairman of the board to act as an outside voice. This provides us with stability and ensures that board meetings don’t turn into a potential echo chamber. 

And although “talking shop” at the dinner table is often a given, try and work hard to keep work and home life as separate as possible while still being committed to achieving our brand objectives.

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Communication is ultimately one of the most important aspects of running a family business and to that end, ensuring family members can voice concerns without emotions running high is key to maintaining business harmony. The great thing about working together is that your varied personalities and expertise should give the brand continued momentum. 

Everyone has their own ideas to bring to the table, which will constantly encourage you to investigate new avenues to help the business succeed and keep up with new market trends, especially when it comes to developing new products. Even the smallest idea could lead to a whole new product line so it’s worth exploring any idea whether discussed in the office, at home or at work.

At Mash Direct we’ve been exporting our vegetable accompaniments for three years. Research this year revealed that 23 per cent of European family businesses say furthering growth abroad is their top priority which surpasses the common perception that family businesses tend to be domestically focused.

Our sales abroad really took off quite quickly, and it soon became clear that exporting was a job in itself and to ensure the growth and success of this avenue, we needed a dedicated body to deal with this day to day – one person is empowered to make the final decision. This plan has worked well so far, with export sales now contributing to 16 per cent of total revenue.

As a rapidly growing company, progression tends to be dictated by growth. Mash Direct is now maturing towards a stage where more complex managerial structures are coming into place, but the pace of work has tended to place a spotlight on those deserving to move up through the company. 

Managing family progression is a challenge and needs to be a “head over heart” decision, but when planning how to pass on your business to the next generation it’s important that you make the right choice for all involved. This is particularly relevant in the farming sector, where being clear in your goals and plans is essential to help ease the transition, ensuring that the direction you want your business to go in is always front of mind.

Of course there are highs and lows with any business, but when family’s involved it’s important to keep the objectives of your business as your priority while remaining true to your family values. Creating a good balance between your business and family is key to running a successful, happy business and I’m excited to see more families take that leap of faith to succeed.

Alternatively, read how legal expert Melanie Wadsworth used the example of one of the UK’s oldest construction companies to examine what family businesses should consider if looking to float and how it is possible to maintain unique family business characteristics whilst still answering to shareholders.

Martin Hamilton is the founder of Mash Direct.