Maximising on modern business practices while respecting the traditions of the past is proving to be a successful strategy for family firms, according to three of the North’s leading business families.
At an event at Jesmond Dene House organised by Square One Law in association with Recognition PR and Santander, for high profile businessmen and women, the families behind Black Sheep Brewery, the Reg Vardy motor dealership chain and Ringtons, shared their experiences and views on what sets a successful family business apart.
Most notably, the passion for the business, transcending the generations, shone through, which highlighted the responsibility the next generation of the family felt to maintaining the standards expected of the family name and their enterprises.
Rob and Jo Theakston, the brothers who run the Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire, spoke about how they both embarked on careers away from the family business, but were drawn back to continue the family legacy applying new and innovative methods they had acquired in their in other parts of the brewing industry.
Sir Peter Vardy explained how important it is to let the next generation find out their own strengths and passions before joining the business. His eldest son Richard trained in the property sector and gained experience in the London property market before returning to the North East to join the family business managing Reg Vardy’s extensive property portfolio of 150 sites before the business’ sale in 2006.
In contrast, his brother, Peter, who has always been mad about cars and had worked in the business from as soon as he left school, retained his passion for the motor industry after the sale, setting up new dealerships in Scotland, a classic car business, Peter Vardy Heritage, and an internet-based car buying service, which is unique in the UK, that enables customers to complete the entire purchase, including finance, online.
The growing trend for customers to buy online has meant less need for physical dealership showrooms and the new business is totally tailored to the customer experience.
Sir Peter commented that in order to stay as a close knit family, his sons decided not to work together and keep their business interests separate.
The importance of maintaining a balanced structure between family and the business was highlighted by Nigel Smith and his nephew Daniel from Ringtons. Originally founded 109 years ago, Ringtons is now led by Executive Chairman Nigel Smith, who himself has been with the business for more than 40 years and like Daniel started in the business as a tea buyer.
Daniel has been with the business four years as a tea buyer and, as with all family members, abide by the guidelines set out in a unique Award winning Family Guide, which sets out what is expected of the family and what their entitlements are. Nigel said he produced the family guide with Square One Law’s Ian Gilthorpe sometime ago and it has certainly been a great help and stood the test of time.
Ian Gilthorpe, Senior Partner at Square One Law, said: “Family and owner managed businesses are the lifeblood of the North East economy and advising them is a particular strength of Square One Law. The frontline stories from these three high profile families demonstrated their entrepreneurial drive, passion and determination. The feedback from the evening was excellent and demonstrated how fascinating their stories were. We were delighted that they were prepared to share their experiences, good and bad and it was interesting to listen to how they managed to keep family life and business life separate.”
Graham Robb, Senior Partner at Recognition PR and Chairman of the Institute Directors in the North East, who interviewed the three families on stage at the event, said: “Encouraging next generations of family members to be part of a business can be a very successful strategy, especially if they join after gaining experience and expertise elsewhere. It creates unity that, combined with their passion and perseverance, can ensure they can continue to thrive and maintain strong positions in their respective markets.”