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My brief lesson in business

The Telegraph
Even a daughter of the boss has to prove herself in commerce

When Jacqueline Gold joined her father’s business at just 19, employees thought she was a family spy. More than three decades on, she’s now chief executive of the multi million-pound Gold Group International comprising Knickerbox and Ann Summers, famous for its racy lingerie and saucy accessories.

She remembers having to earn respect. “It was horrendous – there was nothing worse then than being the boss’s daughter.

“Everyone was suspicious and I felt intimidated.”

Fortunately, Gold had the nous to branch out with a separate venture despite scepticism from an all-male board. Ann Summers Party Plan blossomed and she’s at the helm of a family firm with a turnover of more than £150 million.

If Gold joined with little experience, her sister Vanessa, seven years younger, came in with even less. Gold says: “Vanessa has earned her colours. She worked her way up through every department. As a capable business woman, she’s the right person.”

As sisters who are naturally close, they see or speak to each other nearly every day, and Gold’s father, now group chairman, is her mentor. But bringing in the extended family hasn’t always been a happy experience – and on four occasions employing relatives didn’t work out. “You mustn’t put a square peg in a round hole,” says Gold. “You have a responsibility to all employees and must ultimately do what’s right for the business.”

Nothing can prepare you for the challenge of juggling business and family relationships, says Dani Saveker, who’s run her own fourth generation family firm and now heads consultancy Families in Business. “No one could ever have told me what it would feel like when I saw my children’s photographs torn up in my uncle’s waste bin on the day I made him redundant,” she says. And there’s no “right” time to bring in new members. Before making a decision, she advises, there are a multitude of issues demanding attention: stakeholders’ interests, the candidate’s ability, the needs of the business, the wishes of employees – both family and non-family – mentoring and coaching requirements and, importantly, how much he or she will be paid.

Some families bring in their children in an unofficial capacity to learn the nuts and bolts while still at school. But encouraging family members to get a university education and work elsewhere helps generate new ideas and talent. Outside expertise can also counter accusations of nepotism.

But be careful to treat new family members in exactly the same way as non-family counterparts, says Paul Byett, managing partner at accountants UHY Hacker Young. He advises planning well ahead to avoid conflict.

While a few family businesses have spanned three centuries, only 18 per cent of such UK private limited firms pass down to the third generation, says the Institute for Family Business. Some founders are happy to sell, but others companies lose their way.

Time and again, advisers say, succession planning is “parked” in favour of more pressing business demands. Likewise valuing and selling a family business can often be complex, and issues surrounding passing on the business are often emotionally charged. Value might be tied up in the family name and contacts, or employees’ loyalty hinge on perception of family values.

Timing can be tricky, too. Owners might be keen to sell before the business has reached its full potential or they might hang on to their business for too long and miss the best time to sell, says Mark Jones, corporate finance executive at accountants and business advisers BDO LLP.

Crucially, ownership should be looked at separately from management of the business, says James Austin, partner at lawyers Birketts. Founders could pass on management control to the next generation, retaining ultimate ownership but with mechanisms in place to allow transfer over time.

A business can become a legacy, and a source of family pride. So says Nigel Bishop, whose firm Bishop’s Move, the UK’s largest privately-owned removals company, founded in 1854, is now run by a sixth generation. Five out of eight board members are family, with seven family members working for the company in all. “Our family name is on our trucks – I like to think they have pride in what we’re doing,” he says.

Back in the Sixties he was given no choice but to start sweeping the company floor upon leaving school. Now he’s happy if future family staff travel, work and learn elsewhere. His own son worked abroad for two years before joining. “I believe they should explore other interests – then they can bring something in,” he says.

The secret to such business longevity? “Outside of the office, as a family, we hardly ever talk shop. I’ve got six grandchildren. There’s too much other stuff going on.”

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