Good ethos is key to keeping family firms afloat

IN modern Scotland, family businesses are the backbone of the economy. If they ever had a slightly sleepy image, that has been left long in the past.

Robert Graham of Graham's Dairies. Picture: Donald McLeod
Robert Graham of Graham's Dairies. Picture: Donald McLeod

According to the Scottish Family Business Association, family firms now make up 73 per cent of economic activity in Scotland. In the early days, family businesses often develop from a shared vision but they are also a useful initial mechanism to keep costs under control.

The challenge is maintaining the family ethos as the business builds. Our business started back in 1939 with my grandfather Graham delivering milk to his village’s homes by horse and cart.

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Seven decades later our products can now be found the length and the breadth of the UK. However, we are still proud to be a family-owned and run dairy.

My parents and my sister all work with me in the company and the family appeared together in our first ever TV advertising campaign, which launched last month. Our business dates from the time when television started and a lot has changed down the years but we believe the family tradition is a great asset to our company and something we really want to celebrate.

It’s not without its challenges and they will be explored in today’s Scotsman Family Business Conference in Edinburgh.

Three quarters of firms say they want to stay in family hands but only a third make it to the second generation and just nine per cent pass down to a third generation, as we have. That puts us in a small, but very proud, minority.

For us the secret has been strong family relationships, the quality of our products, real customer service and developing new lines to carry us ahead. Future planning is where many family businesses come unstuck. As a family business, you need to be able to adapt to change.

These are challenging times for everyone but we continue to grow and expand. For some, work and family just don’t mix. However for us it is the basis of everything we do and the bedrock of our strategy for the future.

• Robert Graham is managing director of Graham’s The Family Dairy