A lot of wet leisure businesses are family businesses, as ours is. What’s it like being in business with your father, your brother, sister or aunt? What is it like when your boardroom table is also the kitchen table?You might think that a family run business is a smaller business; that it’s just there to give the kids a job, but that’s a long way from the truth. As far as Wikipedia are concerned, to be a family business, family members must continue to be involved in the management of the company. The family must hold at least 50% of the shares in private companies and at least 32% in public companies.
On that list are: Walmart. Ford. Nike. Mars. Porsche and BMW and an awful lot more billion-dollar companies that you have never heard of. (You can see where the idea of ‘Succession’ came from, can’t you.)
So family businesses are serious businesses but they also have their own unique set of challenges and opportunities.
45 years ago, Dad and I built the pool that built Golden Coast.
We built it because my two brothers and I loved swimming and we built it so that we could lark about and have fun. Innovative and creative even then, that first pool had a DIY solar heating system made from black Alkathene pipe rolled up like a giant liquorice coil on the roof of the plant room. Before long we were building pools for our friends and neighbours.
Just twenty years later I was sat in my parents’ garden with my brothers, a cup of tea in hand and enduring of all things, an interview for a job at GC. My father, who has never been a fan of nepotism, wanted to make sure that we all understood the pitfalls of getting involved in a family business, particularly one with five strong willed characters each with their own portfolio of strengths and weaknesses.
Three jobs for three brothers.
As with any business run by a family, there’s a strong chance that brothers and sisters will soon become consumed by competitiveness if you don’t get the structure right. Dad saw that each of his sons needed a specific area of responsibility where they could grow personally while working towards a common goal.
With design playing a major part in my later education and working previously as an operations manager with another industry distributor for 14 years, I covered marketing and operations while Shaun and Dominic divided up our various product ranges and looked after their respective sales.
We carried on this way until 2006 when we began to realise that Dad was taking more and more time off. We asked him if he had considered retiring and almost on the spot he announced that he was intending to do just that by the end of the following month.
Plan for succession.
We had no succession plan in place; we hadn’t even talked about it. Dad asked us all if we would like the position of MD and two hands went up. A couple of weeks later David Adams retired as Managing Director and took on the role of Chairman. I became MD.
In many, many ways we were lucky with the success of this process. Working in a business where your parents are the founders is seen to be one of the most difficult of all family business scenarios. Founders often never want to leave but dad having put the thought into our roles had total trust and faith in us to take on the reins and took to retirement like the proverbial diver to a pool.
Perhaps he realised that every decision in a family business has lifelong implications to relationships within that family. All business decisions are important but within a family business, they can be doubly so as people automatically have multiple roles; board member and sister, Finance Director and mother.
Families that talk together, stay together.
Managing the family part of the family business is the key. Emotions can run high around the boardroom table but the voices around the kitchen table can easily get much louder.
Communication is the secret.
Talk with each other as much as you can and then talk some more. No one should ever be left wondering what his or her siblings are thinking.
In the earlier days of Golden Coast many a decision was made over a lunch break or talking something through during walk in the fresh Devon air without the need for formal meetings, minutes and memos. Of course when any business gets to a certain size, corporate governance comes in to play but by then open and trusting relationships should be well established.
Like father, like sons?
Our father, David Adams, had the vision to start the Golden Coast business back in the 70’s and over the following twenty years my brothers and I joined him, each of us having worked in businesses both within and outside of the wet leisure industry.
The experience of being an employee together with the knowledge and skills developed during those years was invaluable in helping us develop the business but I know that we are all glad to be back, working together.
To date, none of our kids have shown much interest in joining the business although nearly all of them have worked here at some time or another during the summer holidays and had to graft hard in support of our amazing distribution team.
There will always be an opportunity for them here. As long as they do well in the interview.