The year is 1944, imagine if you will, the plains of China, paddy fields and farmers tending their livestock and many acres of rice fields. There is chatter amongst the farmers and children playing and working alongside their parents. The heat of the day is unbearable, but everyone is working hard to plant rice and tend livestock to harvest and take to market. This is the way things have been for thousands of years. Nothing much changes, that’s country living for you.
One day the army arrives in the village and rounds up all the men. They are seen as anti-communist agitators as the Cultural Revolution takes hold of the Country. It’s hard to bring everyone in line, – no telephones, televisions or means of reaching these scattered villages amongst the hills and planes. So something must be done to send a message to the surrounding rural communities.
Men of my grandmother’s community are rounded up and made to dig a huge hole in the surrounding area. It is a very big hole and very deep. All adult males are made to stand at the edge of the hole and they are systematically executed. They are branded as divergent agitators of the Peoples Communist Party. Amongst the crowd that watch in horror is a little 10-year-old girl with her 7 siblings, mum, friends and neighbours. Terrified, nobody knows what is going on, but their menfolk have all been shot.
Lets stay here for a moment to reflect on what had just happened. Imagine the wailing, tears, the smell of gunshot, the palpable taste of fear in the air…….. What just happened?
Fast forward a year. It is l945 and my grandmother and other women in the village round up their children, say their goodbyes and the children who together with many thousands reach the coast to cross the water to Hong Kong. Li Tong is now 11 years old and the eldest of 7 siblings. They are all leaving their mum, families and friends. They are departing from the only life they have only ever known. The plan is one of escape from the rule of the Communist Regime. Many children are shot or drowned during the crossing. But thankfully Li Tong and her 7 siblings survive. They reach Hong Kong, traumatised, cold, frightened and hungry. An aunt is waiting for them and their new lives begin.
So this is me. Hello my name is Anita Brightley-Hodges. I am half Chinese. Li Tong was my mum and she married my dad a soldier based in Hong Kong. I was born in Hong Kong and came to the UK by boat. In those days it took a whole month to travel to England. I have a sister and the two of us grew up as army brats travelling to army basis in Germany and Aiden for the next 10 years of our lives. I never knew of my mum’s other life and trauma until quite recently. Like all mums, she kept things to herself.
But throughout out young lives, education was everything. Absolutely everything. I’m proud to say my sister is at the top of her tree in corporate mobility; having had a career with PWC EY, Barclays Capital and Emigra Worldwide. I chose a very different route and my first job was as a secretary at a Private Bank in London. After a year I thought – is this it? So one day I got off the train at Cannon Street and got right back on it and went home. I knew I was destined for better things.
In 1990 I set up my first business. I formed an international boutique branding agency in London and travelled the world working for huge blue-chip clients: Deutsche Bank, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Glaxo Smithkline, AstraZeneca, Boots, Pret a Monger, HMS, Sony and many others. We were award winning and I loved it. My husband looked after our children and that in itself was quite a thing back in the day. A complete role reversal. We had a good life.
In 2008 I lost everything. Has anyone reading here ever lost a business? It was absolutely the worst time of my life. Every ounce of energy left me. I was crushed. I didn’t know what to do. …… In Hong Kong if you can’t make something to sell, then you cook and sell it. I’m a survivor and my determination not to be beat is in my DNA. Fast forward to 2019 I run the leading vibrant membership organisation for UK and Irish family businesses. We support and encourage the next generation of family-run enterprises to succeed. All sizes and in all sectors. Family-run firms are unique, powerful, energised, innovative, determined, future proof and are the single most common business model in the world. They have been for thousands of years.
However, they are riddled with complexity and emotional turmoil. There are husband and wife startups, cousins, siblings who work together. On the face of it what could be more fulfilling than working with people you love and trust? On the other hand there is nothing worse when you can’t leave the business at the office but bring it home seven days a week. A bad day at work can simply shroud family life in despair and worry.
In short, my expertise is to help families understand the nature of family and business. To help them navigate the difficulties around succession, exit, growth, business strategy, sale or investment. As sure as eggs is eggs, we are all going to die. The secret to success is to make sure there is a plan in place for the future. That everyone understands what’s involved and what is expected of them. To be honest, as to why they are in business together. To understand each others strengths and weaknesses. Is it a meritocracy or an autocracy? Why is nepotism such a dirty word? What has love, kindness, patience, support got to do with anything….Nothing ….yet everything.
There are 4.8million family-run firms in the UK. Only 3% make it to the next-gen, only 12% to Gen 3 and only 4% to Gen 4 and beyond. Many are household names: JCB, Swires, Aunt Bessies, Stannah Chair Lifts, Warburtons Bread, Morgan Cars, Wates, Penshurst Pace, Dyson, Virgin Group, Tunnocks, Fortnum & Masons, Shepherds Purse Cheese, Westons Cider, Shepherd Neame, Specsavers and Boohoo – the list goes on.
My passion is to be the turn to a specialist for any family-run enterprises who are stuck. I can help. I hold an advanced certificate in family advising and in mediation. I am a useful NED, coach, mentor, strategist and especially helping families transition from one generation to the next. In today’s new economy, I understand that with every generation there are different agendas, aspirations, opportunities which all need to be embraced. My job is to protect the family in light of the business. You can always get another business, but you can’t get another family. It’s also amazing what you can achieve one step at a time.
I took the time to discover who I am, and why I am the way I am. It has revealed so much about my appetite for achievement, hard work, sacrifice, the importance of family and for survival. Do you know who you are?