Leaders and owners of family-owned businesses regularly feel isolated, alone and undervalued, according to recent research by the sector’s support organisation Families in Business (FiB).
FiB’s CEO and founder Dani Saveker believes such emotions are all too common amongst family enterprises and are feelings she recognises well from her time as CEO of her own family’s business.
“I spent 14 years working at my family’s business Savekers, a Birmingham-based manufacturer of architectural metalwork and shop fittings,” she says. “For much of my time as the fourth generation at the helm of the family firm, I often felt lonely and longed to talk with someone who really knew how I was feeling.
“These emotions were the inspiration behind the creation of Families in Business – an organisation that has become the ‘go to’ place for family businesses. A major feature of the FiB community is a growing team of exceptional professionals, suppliers and advisers who ensure a network is available for whatever and whenever there’s a need from family businesses.
“Alongside, I wanted to provide somewhere safe for those leading and managing family firms to go to share their experiences, to discuss their plans, and worries, without fear of being judged, and always with fresh, insightful ideas and support from individuals going or having been through similar concerns and challenges.
“The FiB Insight groups were created and launched last year across the UK, including in the West Midlands. They are just part of the support available to family businesses as FIB also delivers unique and highly specialised consultancy and intervention services on a project basis whether for an individual considering their exit strategy or a family business that feels stuck or challenged.
“Each Insight group consists of between 5 and 10 current and/or future executives from family businesses, and meets in a confidential and neutral setting to discuss challenges, evaluate opportunities and solve an assortment of strategic, operational and often personal issues unique in family businesses.
“Each is facilitated by a member of FIB’s team, who helps stimulate thinking, frames issues, guides discussions, develops clarity and often provides a sounding board for ideas. Importantly each of our facilitators has a full appreciation for the challenges that family businesses face, with many of our team having worked in a family business. This means we can support family businesses from a position of knowing some of what they are experiencing and facing having ‘lived it’.”
General Building Plastics
Wendy Hill is the second generation of her family business General Building Plastics and is a member of the West Midlands’ FiB Insight group.
“The Group sessions have been amazingly helpful,” she says. “For years I struggled with doubts over whether I was doing the right thing. Having no formal management training meant I was unsure whether we were approaching things correctly and I didn’t feel I had anyone to ask. The group has been a great support and non-judgmental place that has allowed me to air my problems and views and get some really good advice.”
GB Plastics was founded by Wendy’s mother Janet Sutherland in 1990. Janet is still an active member of the business, and Wendy is a Director alongside her brother Alan, whilst their younger sister Clare Falls re-joined the business earlier this year.
Wendy says the safe environment of the Insight Group is invaluable: “I find it really useful to be able to talk to my peers within a confidential environment. I spend so much time working within the business that I often don't have time to work on it. Insight allows me to take time to think about the business, our goals, challenges and strategies.”
Celebrating its silver anniversary is just one of a number of major milestones for GB Plastics so far this year, as Wendy explains: “We have opened our sixth branch in the Midlands, in Oswestry, we recently received amazing recognition as winners of the Red Ribbon Award for Small Family Business, and we are in the process of fitting out new premises in Rugeley which will be our new Head Office later this year.”
Multi-award winning innovative packaging company Woolcool is also a second generation Staffordshire-based family business and its Sales & Marketing Director Josie Morris, the daughter of founder Angela Morris, is both a FiB Champion and Insight group member.
Like Wendy, Josie values the unique safe environment Insight provides: “FiB really does feel like an extension of the family, and Insight is somewhere we can be honest without being judged. Being able to share experiences has been invaluable, especially the emotions that are integral to being part of the family behind a family business.
“It is great to have a group of people who understand how a family business is different to other businesses. Running a family business has a host of unique challenges, and it can often be impossible to switch off. The individuals I have met through FiB all understand this feeling.
“Woolcool recently opened a new depot in Stone, and the whole process surrounding this was totally new for me. FiB has put me in touch with people who truly understand and it was a great support being able to talk about how I was feeling with people who can really relate - and who feel like mentors in many ways. They gave me insightful, informed advice that without doubt helped me with clarity and energy at this important stage for the business.”
Bromsgrove-based GMS Group is a leading national service provider of security and void property management services. Neil Male is CEO of the family business. He joined as an employee in 2000, and this year spearheaded another MBO that completed in May and saw him and his wife Emma take full ownership of GMS Group. His brother Andy is Director of one of the Group’s subsidiary companies.
“I found the FiB Insight meetings a useful forum for discussing my vision and thoughts for the MBO,” explains Neil. “As facilitator, Dani brings a calming, supportive influence but also challenges us as a team or individually. As well as being valuable from a professional point of view, the group also helped me on a personal level in relation to achieving a better work/life balance.
“Being part of a family business delivers a number of important benefits, from being able to make swift decisions, introduce innovative platforms and technology, building trust and relationships with all employees from frontline to head office staff, treating them each as individuals, and making me a strong and accountable leader.”
This article first appeared in a Special Report in BQ West Midlands - to view the supplement, see: