Consulting firms know the theory of running a family business and offer the text book advice but are seldom there for the implementation. Every family business is different and you really have to have been in the trenches with the families, day in day out, 24/7 to really understand the challenges faced by family businesses today. All family businesses are different.
Starting out, the founder/owner is often so busy that he/she doesn’t get time to stop and plan ahead. The founder can often be in a lonely place. I have acted in the role of Consigliere (trusted advisor) where an owner needs a confidante to talk to, to bounce things off or to simply vent and let off steam when necessary. Trust is key and confidence in your advice is paramount. With more than 20 years experience at senior level in family businesses in very different industries, I enjoy being of assistance to family businesses from the small family business starting off, to working with some of the largest family businesses in the world.
I joined Ballymore, the family owned property developers in 2007. The world was flying along but in the background the subprime mortgage lending by financial institutions in America was beginning to be a worry. Sean Mulryan, the founder of Ballymore was reading the markets and was worried. I came on board to help reshape the company in advance of a possible downturn.
A year into the role, Lehman Brothers collapsed and the resultant collapse of many large international financial institutions and their effect on the world’s economy was catastrophic. It was more than catastrophic being a large International Property Developer at the time, with borrowing of nearly €3 billion. Fast forward to today. Ballymore has survived the financial meltdown and has come out the other side in good shape. It was a very tough nine years. If Ballymore was not a family business, I don’t think it would have had the steel, the determination and the resilience to battle through.
I was fortunate to have joined JCB, one of the world’s leading equipment manufacturers when the founder Joseph Cyril Bamford (Mr JCB) was still there and even though he retired shortly after, I got a real sense of the genius he was. He was an inspirational character and an inventor like so many founders of great international companies. Genius and eccentricity come very close together in many entrepreneurs.
I joined as their first Global Marketing Director. Anthony his son (now Lord Bamford) had taken over the running of the business. Lord Bamford grew JCB into a £3 billion turnover company, operating in more than 80 countries with 11,000 employees.
JCB is an example of a privately owned family business that has maintained all the positives of being owned by a family even though it is now a large global operation.
I spend a decade running PolyGram in Ireland, the largest recorded music company in the world at the time. The music industry had a lot in common with family businesses.
Bands in the music industry often are families such as The Corrs but even if they are not blood related, they share many of the circumstances similar to families such as living together, working together and travelling together for extended periods of time.
Bands were formed because of the skill set of the individual musicians and singers where family are together because of birth.
They didn’t choose each other! I learned the difference very early in life.
The opportunity to work with Anheuser Busch to launch Budweiser in Ireland was an opportunity to work with one of the largest family owned businesses in the world. Founded in 1852 by Adolphus Busch and Eberhard Anheuser, Anheuser Busch went on to become the largest brewery in the world, famous for Budweiser and Bud Light with over 30,000 employees, headquartered in St Louis Missouri. I worked with them through the era of August Busch 111 and was there for the introduction of August Busch IV.
Budweiser was launched in Ireland in 1986 to great fanfare with the sponsorship of The Budweiser Irish Derby at The Curragh. It became the number one selling lager in Ireland within 12 months. Budweiser continued to sponsor this internationally famous horse race meeting up until 2007.
The President of the company in St Louis was Dennis Long, originally from Kerry and the Chief Marketing Officer was the famous Michael J Roarty from Donegal. Two formidable Irishmen in a 134 year old family business. I learned a lot from them not just business but how they could manage successfully at this very senior level in this family business.
I was in Guinness when the Guinness family were handing over control to the plc world and reducing their day to day involvement and ownership. Guinness was a great place to work. Generations of families worked there and it was truly one of the world’s great family businesses to work for at that time.
Today it is owned by Diageo and much of the family values that existed then are lost.