Looking back and thinking forward

It’s the last week leading up to Christmas and we call it a day for a couple of weeks for all to enjoy a well-earned break. I’ve been doing a bit of looking back at our achievements, not so good choices, family challenges, as well as business.

For me some great events and projects include:

  • Northern Conference at Bowcliffe Hall with our fab host Jonathan Turner. Seeing family business chums who value this very special community and sector of the UK and Irish economy
  • Helping new clients with their family business challenges. Christmas can sometimes be a difficult time and can magnify hurt – whilst we put on a brave face
  • Being a guest speaker at PwC, Credit Suisse, Herts Chambers of Commerce on all things family business
  • Trekking 165km of the Camino de Santiago and raising just about 10K over the year for Alzheimer’s Research
  • Launching our Family Business place Membership – whoa!
  • Interviewing Lord Karan Bilimoria of Cobra Beer and the unstoppable Dame Stephanie Shirley
  • Having Wednesdays off with my Grandson Hendrix – pure joy!
  • Welcoming newbies on board, Rhian in Art, Caz in Membership, Danielle in bookkeeping
  • An exciting reshuffle of the Family Business Place focus and strategy
  • Attaining my Advanced Certificate in Family Business Advising and taking part in the annual FFI Global Conference
  • Hosting a record-breaking year at the National Family Business Awards and welcoming the most uber amazing fabulous family firms from around the UK and Ireland.
  • Amalia winning the IoD Family Business Director of the Year – soooo proud! Firmly putting the family business sector on the map.
  • Launching the Kent Family Business Unsung Heroes Award – humbling and enriching – celebrating all those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make our family businesses shine

The list goes on, and too many fantastic events in 2018 to mention them all. Some sadness this year – in holding my mum’s hand as she took her last breath – dementia is cruel – and watching my dad’s health deteriorate with COPD. Sobering times to reflect on how lucky I am. So blessed, so thankful. Our parents make us the people we are today. What gems and gifts do you take from yours?

I’m sure like many you, it has been an up and down year, but that’s why we are here – to support each other over the coming months of uncertainty, family issues, business challenges. Mostly though I urge you to make the most of family at Christmas and to approach the New Year with optimism, energy. Let’s look to each other for support, advice, trade, and influence to help us to flourish in 2019.

Wishing you all a time of peace, harmony and love. From our family business to yours.

Never Stop Giving

As a child my father instilled a passion in me for sport and travel, indeed I grew up wanting to be aboard Jacques Cousteau’s vessel Calypso, bravely battling the harsh and open seas. However it was not to be. Instead my career has been an exciting roller coaster of ideas and experiences, running small, boutique, businesses employing no more than 12 people at any one time. In 1990 I began a successful award-winning international branding and design agency which, with much hard-work, fun and devotion, I nurtured for over 25 years.

Whilst waiting to take a brief from the communications team at Great Ormond Street Hospital for their annual report, I noticed a leaflet asking for fundraisers to Trek the Namibian Desert. I didn’t know a soul but I was compelled to sign up for the exploration of a lifetime. It was there that I learnt self-reliance and developed a passion for adventure. The rest, as they say, is history. Next came Machu Picchu. There I was, out of breath, trudging through the pouring rain, my boots squelching the muddy ground that I thought: here am I having the time of my life, raising funds for equipment for Great Ormond Street, just by taking 10 days out of my busy working life. If I can do this, in my small business, then why not others?

As soon as I returned to the studio,  I asked my team if anyone would like to take 10 extra days as paid leave in order to make an impact on someone else’s life; my web developer took up my offer and, hey presto, raised enough funds to go to Rwanda and help build a school in one of the poorest rural communities. I remember the pride in his voice when he told me ‘I’ve made a link for life’.

Since then I’ve set up the scheme My Ten Days, an organisation that works with businesses and charities to progress their corporate social responsibility by offering their staff just ten days to do something amazing, either here at home in the UK or overseas. We have had some amazing success stories over the years with family business owners and their employees who have embarked upon a journey that not only changed their lives but the lives of those most in need. I am proud and delighted by each and every one of them.

For our part we now use these 10 days to raise funds to build fresh borehole wells in deepest, rural Uganda. Our campaign WellGood is in partnership with Fields of Life and helps bring water, healthcare and education to those who most desperately require it.. To date we, with many other family businesses have built over 30 borehole wells.

Each well saves the lives of between 200 and 2000 people in a village. Considering that 115 people in Africa die every hour from illnesses due to poor sanitation, hygiene and contaminated water*, I say that we are making an impact for the better and what’s more there is further work we can do. There is no reason why anyone in 2018 should live in poverty,  yet thousands suffer daily. Despite losing my first business in 2010, I have continued to contribute to and develop initiatives that help those that are less fortunate than myself. I count my blessings that no matter how bad things get, there are others out there who are facing a much harsher reality. A reality that, if we can, is our duty to alter. Roll on the next 30 wells and while I may never have embarked upon the Calypso, I encourage anyone to cross the seas in the search for altruism.

For more information on how you can give back go to  

Illustration by Rhian Stone



This year marks 10 years since Family Business Place was founded.  At the time, like many others of us working at international and global level, the mere mention of family business conjured up phrases such as: mom and pop, arguing relatives, small minded, regional, local business. butcher, baker ….. In fact, you would never aspire to work for a family business. Success as a smart, bright, young thing equated with getting a job with the large corporates, and for my part becoming Art Director at a national magazine in the heart of Soho.

They say things happen for a reason. And it all began with an invitation to a family business conference in Bristol. There I was enchanted, moved and excited about the stories of creativity, innovation, adversity, challenges, family relationships, business dynamics, world class, all the while being community centred. I was hooked. The day also produced its fair share of tears and high emotions.

With my marketing hat on and notwithstanding that my daughter Amalia worked alongside me, I got to thinking – something is needed to galvanise the sheer power, influence, capacity for employment, networking, sharing, giving,  back, community standing and so much more.

Ten years on, I am proud that we seem to have made it ‘cool’ to be a family business. How can this not be with fantastic enterprises such as VivoBarefoot, Izzy Wheels, Seven Brothers and 4 Sisters Brewers, Bremont, Baby Salon, Pentland, Pimlico Plumbers, BooHoo, Deliciously Ella and and more. With three National Conferences always a sell out; The National Family Business Awards being the jewel in the crown in the Family Business Calendar, we’ve attracted family run business owners who are proud to be called family owned, they are ambitious and attractive to work for; overflowing with expertise and craftsmanship. Importantly they provide regional jobs where family and work can be juggled and enjoyed for a better, flexible work life balance.

What have I learned is I have a heart that is bursting with pride in knowing these heroes personally. When I’ve needed a speaker, a connection, a mentor, an ambassador for family business I have only ever had to ask. Now working with two of my daughters Amalia and Olympia alongside my husband Steve and son in-law Nick as well as our adopted family Sue, we have a dream to be change makers for the family business community. To raise their profile as the true backbone of the UK and Irish economy. To help them be known as giants of industry. Our membership launched this year allows us to ask what is needed from us, how to trade with each other, access advice around business succession and of course when family dynamics can harm both the family and the business beyond repair. One is not without the other and conflict is part and parcel of being a family run enterprise. I want to thank our supporters and ambassadors who have been there when we sometimes questioned ourselves. We have a long way to go, but I am assured we are making a difference. Get in touch, find out more and join the movement.

Who’s Really Pulling the Strings – Part II

In a family business, who is the puppet, and who holds the strings? My work with a particular Family business  led to scenarios  and witnessing  a war between mother and daughter-in-law, daughter and parents- I helped the family with their family legacy hanging in the balance to navigate from turmoil toward a peaceful resolution; seemingly against all the odds.

Learning Outcomes

– Toxic relationships have an impact on succession
– Guide the next generation if they aren’t up to scratch
– Understand the importance/influence of all players (especially spouses on the periphery)
  make sure the family commits to doing it ‘your way’, to stop matters being made worse
– Manage communication between the family so it doesn’t disrupt/ destroy the plan of action all have signed up to
– Get to the truth, even if it means difficult questions. These will bite you on the bum later – guaranteed. Better out than in.

Who’s Really Pulling the Strings? Part I

In an autocratic family business, who holds the power? Your first answer may be the father, who built the company from scratch, or the son, set to inherit- but oftentimes, the men of the family are reduced to puppets; with the women behind the scenes, controlling the marionette strings.

Imagine: your independent business is flourishing, you and your spouse are happy. You’d like to retire, but not to worry, because all your hard work won’t be wasted- your son and daughter seem ready to take over. With a good succession plan, life will be good.

But what happens when your son falls in love with a woman of a different nationality, who has no interest in the business, who you suspect of being a gold digger? What happens when relationships between you and your new daughter-in-law become toxic? What happens when even your other child distances herself from you? If you don’t bridge these ever-widening chasms between family members, what will become of your legacy, hanging in the balance?

I was facilitator, mediator and strategist to a family business in jeopardy. Elemental themes of betrayal, favouritism, and destructive relationships were all a play.

Working with the family for 5 years. I was concerned about the tiny toxic interactions that grew over the years – that, when influenced by precisely the wrong person,  spelt  disaster for the family and its succession plans. But thankfully and more importantly,  the owner had the wisdom and presence of mind to recognise and resolve these interactions, so that his family business might thrive.

Trust Takes Years to Build, Seconds to Break and Forever to Repair

Trust is such a natural part of being in a family that we often take it for granted. In a family business where everyone is working toward a common goal, trust becomes the keystone of the arch- without it, the whole thing comes crumbling down. This is what separates a corporate culture, which centres around profit targets and individual success; from an independent family business culture, which promotes success of the collective- and it shows in every decision. For small businesses in particular, trust in each other is what allows them to thrive, whilst ensuring that those all-important family values that are tied to a family’s identity remain present.

However, trust goes both ways- and in a family business, it comes with its own unique problems. Say that a family member has been given a job through entitlement- what happens when they aren’t pulling their weight, despite the trust you have put in them? A corporate business always has the option of dismissal if it turns out that trust has been misplaced in an employee; and life can continue for both parties. However, because trust is so deeply ingrained in a family business, the same situation can prove to be very precarious. Without a formal governance structure, a dismissal can result in a toxic environment- and a decision made for the good of the business has betrayed the trust of someone in the family, infecting both work and home relationships in the process.

There are three aspects of trust that need to be assessed when employing a family member- loyalty, competence, and assurance.

There is a difference between loyalty to family, and loyalty to a family business. Would the family member take their role seriously enough ? Could they maintain a professional manner, especially in front of non-family co-workers? Would they act in the interest of the family over themselves?

You must be sure that the family member is suitably competent in the role before appointing them. Is the role in an area that interests them? Have you seen any examples of their experience with similar roles? Do they care passionately and take pride and attention in their work? Assurance requires active communication with the family member. Can they work to a specific task or job role? Are their words backed up with their actions? Would they be honest to you about their own ability and progress, even if they required help?

Welcoming a family member into your business always feels like the natural thing to do- but these questions bear some thinking about, and not just by you. Most times, some honest communication between family members can mean all the difference between an amicable healthy working environment and a toxic one. As they say, the toothpaste can never be put back into the tube.

Balancing the Scales

By their nature, family businesses are always in two worlds at once. Family is what makes working life fun and easy, it’s what supports and motivates you- it’s what you work for. Business, on the other hand, requires sacrifice, but also passion, and excitement for what you do. Every family business I’ve ever met has had to work hard to balance these scales, and it’s not easy. If you’ve ever had to impose the ‘no talking shop at the dinner table’ rule, you know what I mean!

But achieving this balance between family and business is important- too much of one can overwhelm the other, often without you realising until it’s too late. Personal family problems and disagreements, if left unresolved, can leak into the business, creating rifts over time. By the same token, too much ‘talking shop’ can lead to family members getting so wrapped up with the business that they have difficulty spending quality time just being a family.

So how do we avoid this?

I recall a past Forum speaker, who shared how he had entered the business owned by his uncle and father. He reminisced about the relationships he had with both- his uncle was very business-focused, whereas his father was every bit the family man, even while at work. He said that the close, yet opposite relationships he had with them had informed his relationships with his own son and nephew; and while he admitted to struggling to balance the scales every now and then, he had largely been able to keep it even.