The old adage has always taught us that you can choose your friends but not your family, which is a good job for a number of local businesses. With the latest research from the Institute for Family Business reporting that a staggering 77.7 per cent of East Midlands businesses are family firms, writer Joanne Hunt caught up with Lincoln companies to see why keeping it in the family works so well...
What does it really take to make a business successful? Passion? Drive? Shared ambition and vision? Trust? A sense of humour?
Now, what does it take to make a relationship, whether mother and daughter, brother and sister or husband and wife, successful? The answers that come to mind probably aren’t that different.
In family business why would you not practice what you preach? If you live by the family values of honesty, respect and support at home, why leave them at the door on your way to work? Transferring the attitudes and approaches which make a family unit work has proven invaluable for a huge number of Lincolnshire businesses, firms such as Human Alchemy.
Run by husband and wife team Paul and Dawn Barron, Human Alchemy was founded by Dawn in 2000 with Paul joining in 2010. They specialise in high-performance leadership teamworking in order to boost confidence, productivity and ultimately business performance. For the co-alchemists, the tools they use during training to accomplish this have naturally come in to play at home.
“You can’t go out there and promote the benefits of focussed teamwork if you don’t practice what you preach,” says Paul.
“Transformation through people is our focus, so what we do on a daily basis is all about relationship building. We deal in getting teams to work together effectively, so they perform at a high level and work towards the same vision for the future. What we train people in is based a lot around how they think, speak, act and their use of language – we pick up on things we can see that affect relationships. We’re both highly trained in what we do and we bring that to our own relationship.
“A lot of it is common sense, but it’s about being very aware of the impact you have when you speak to people, how it comes across and what effect that has if you don’t deliver it properly,” he adds.
With Paul’s former positions including president of Alstom UK, director of UK Trade and Investment, managing director of Ruston Gas Turbines and most recently chief executive officer of NATS (National Air Traffic Service), a post which he retired from in 2010, his credentials and expert knowledge is priceless. And the same can be said for Dawn. Prior to launching the business in 2000, Dawn worked with businesses of all sizes, such as Sky TV, Churchill Insurance and UK Central Government. She was the Director of HR Policy for GEC plc – the UK’s largest electronics company at the time with 140,000 employees worldwide.
The combination of Dawn and Paul’s previous experience is not only what makes their advice so valuable to regional businesses, but what made their decision to work together such a surprisingly easy one.
“From my point of view Paul joining the company was very natural,” says Dawn. “I don’t think we even sat down and talked about it. We knew that we would work together well and that work would continue to be a big part of our lives.
“People say to us, ‘well you must argue’, but we don’t. We disagree but we don’t argue. People say it must be boring, but just because we don’t argue doesn’t mean we lead a boring life, far from it, it’s just calm. It’s how we like to live our lives and it’s what we bring to teams when we work with them.”
Still working individually on some projects nationally and internationally, Dawn and Paul allow each other the time and space to stretch their legs when it comes to their own areas of expertise and unique passions. It also allows them to come together to work locally, a facet of the business where their enthusiasm soars.
“When it comes to local businesses we like to work together, it’s one of the things we feel really passionate about,” explains Dawn.
“The family ethos that runs through smaller businesses is fabulous. What we’ve learnt and seen is that it is essential to keep their quirks and personality alive and kicking.”
The same goes for Dawn and Paul themselves. Keeping the brand Human Alchemy going is something that takes frequent evaluation on their part, after all how the company and the brand is seen and how it works is down to just the two of them. “We’ve had to develop our offering as we’ve gone along,” continues Paul. “In a family business the brand and your offering is so important because it feeds into every aspect of the business. There’s only two of us so we have to make sure we are aligned on what our brand means to us.”
Dawn adds: “For people running a family business their aspirations need to be clear. For example, in 20 years’ time, do they all still want to be a part of it or do they want to grow it and sell it? If they don’t agree it comes out in the wash.
“It’s like couples when they meet young, they grow in different ways sometimes and that can happen with a family business.”
The best example of this is Dawn and Paul themselves, as Paul explains: “We’re both remarried so we have four children together and our families had to merge and come together, which they did fantastically. All of them come to us for different things; they know our different skill sets and what each of us will be able to help them with.
“Because of course we are individuals and in the early days that had to be worked out, not just as two people but also as business partners. Both of us have successfully created and delivered business transformation but we have different strengths and ways of working. I have always been driven to deliver the bottom line and could only survive if I achieved it consistently,” he says.
“So I was always absolutely focussed on profits and I’ve spent my life doing that. Dawn is the more creative side of our partnership and can have an idea in a minute and it took a little while for me to understand that when she spoke about them she was just voicing her ideas rather than talking about things she wanted to action. Now that I understand how she thinks, it’s a lot clearer and a powerful combination when we deliver the training together.”
Dawn agrees: “It’s all about embracing the differences that you have and learning how to use them effectively. But the more members you have in a family business, the harder that becomes. It’s easier for us because we train people in how to overcome these things. We teach it so we have to apply it.
“For us and the businesses we train, it comes down to knowing and constantly applying the tools and techniques that deliver high performance teamwork.”