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Family members running a business is bad news? What absolute garbage

Most people have heard the old generalisation, “those who can, do, and those that can’t, teach”. But less commonly known is, “those that know business, become entrepreneurs, those that don’t become city academics”. 
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It may not trip off the tongue as smoothly, but it hits the proverbial nail on the head when it comes to a piece of garbage that’s come out of the US regarding family members and business.

I came across a report by something called the Bank for International Settlements. No? Me neither.  

Apparently, it’s a talking shop of the world’s leading central bankers and these academic wack jobs from across the pond have used their computers to conclude that employing family members, and more specifically your children does not make good business sense.

These geniuses, who used a computer algorithm to wade through thousands of filings by American companies, came up with the belief that too many family members at the top of a business led to bad decisions.

What a load of rubbish. Undoubtedly employing family members is no more a factor in business failures as stupid ideas, cash flow problems or market changes. In my experience, family members add value to a business, not the other way around.

At its core, Pimlico Plumbers is a family business. My two sons are heavily involved, Scott as operations director and Samm is in charge of our plumbing and heating merchants business.

I’ve also got two son-in-laws, Marc Taylor, Dave Vyce, my grandsons Ashley and Charlie Jr, my granddaughter Daisy and, of course, my good lady Julie.

They make a considerable difference to the business and engender a sense of family that isn’t just about blood relatives, but those who buy into the company culture. 

It seems to me that the perception of family businesses is quite outdated and only sparks images of 1920s shopfronts and greengrocers run by Arkwright & Son. This view, together with the tin pot research conducted by our American cousins, suggests that family firms will only ever go the way of Woolworths.

Based on figures from the Institute of Family Business, these businesses contribute £460bn to the UK’s GDP with 4.7 million family-run enterprises in Britain employing 12.2 million people. There’s nothing quaint about those numbers.

The belief that businesses are simply handed down to family members, generation to generation, without a second thought is more old-fashioned than the entire concept of family businesses. 

The stereotype of a flaky offspring being given the keys to the kingdom is now only the stuff of poor Hollywood comedies because entrepreneurs understand more and more that the people around them must be able to deliver on their strategies, relatives or not.

Of course, I’m sure there are still a few firms using nepotism over common sense, but those are the ones that will disappear. It’s part of the natural selection of the business world.

But a bunch of academics from the far-from-trustworthy world of banking can’t tar the army of family businesses with the same brush based on a presumption made by a computer.

Family businesses have been around as long as plumbing, perhaps longer. And just like the plumbing game, the concept has remained the same, but the way we work has constantly evolved.

If a business can remain one step ahead of the competition then the prospects are positive. And that includes family businesses where there is a level of shared responsibility at the core, which resonates across every part of the operation.

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About Author

Charlie Mullins

Charlie Mullins, also an OBE, is the archetypal entrepreneur – having started his business from scratch and then building it into a multi-million pound enterprise. From humble beginnings growing up on an estate in South London, he left school with no qualifications, but after a four-year plumbing apprenticeship he started his own firm, Pimlico Plumbers, which now generates a turnover in excess of £30m and boasts many well-known names among its many clients including Simon Cowell, Helen Mirren and Richard Branson. He has been a regular contributor on Real Business since 2011 and is particularly about apprenticships.

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