The managing director of one of the South West’s best-known companies has revealed that some of the £100m-turnover family-owned business’ biggest decisions are still made around the kitchen table.
Speaking at Insider’s South West Owner-Managed and Family Business Breakfast, Martin Thatcher, the fourth generation of the Thatcher family to lead Thatchers Cider, admitted that the daily running of the business still dominates much of the conversation in the Thatchers household.
Thatcher said: “I’m a great believer that family businesses should hold on to their traditions and one of the great traditions of farming businesses was always that the decisions were made around the kitchen table. Mum and dad and myself have made some of our best and most important decisions over a coffee at the kitchen table.
“In fact, I believe that is so important, I’ve actually put a kitchen table in my office so all the top team can sit around the kitchen table to make the decisions. For me, that’s what makes family businesses special – we talk about business at home. We’re not in the slightest bit disciplined, we tend to talk about business all the time.”
As Thatchers Cider has grown in the last decade, Thatcher has inevitably had to build a management structure beneath him to allow the business to expand, but he admitted that like his father before him, he finds handing-over some of the day-to-day responsibilities of his role difficult.
“I just want to always know how everything is going,” he said. “I’m a bit like my dad – I like to keep control of everything. It is incredibly difficult to give up what is your baby and we live and breathe it every day and every hour of the day. But when you bring in great people, or you grow your own great people through apprenticeships and other ways, it is easier to give up some of that responsibility – but only easier, it’s still not easy.”
Three very different types of family businesses were represented on the panel of Insider’s South West Owner-managed and Family Business breakfast, which also heard from Janis Sinton of Bristol-based food technology company TasteTech and Sue Tumelty, founder of franchise-based outfit The HR Dept in Emersons Green.
Almost a hundred owner-managed and family business leaders gathered at Weston College’s Winter Gardens campus to hear from the leaders of the three businesses, as they revealed their relationship to their own heritage, their approach to maintaining the unique characteristics of a family business, as well as the all-important questions around succession planning. The event was sponsored by Cooper Associates Wealth Management, Porter Dodson, Saffery Champness and Weston College.
In contrast to Martin Thatcher, Sue Tumelty, who has recently handed over the day-to-day management of the HR Dept to daughter Gemma, said she has always tried to be strict about not talking business at home.
She said: “When I first set up, I was working alongside my husband, and we made some rules – like we will talk business in the kitchen, but the minute we went into the dining room to eat our tea, we were not allowed to talk about business at all – and the bedroom was absolutely verboten! So Gemma and I have also made rules too about when we can talk shop and when we can’t.”
Sinton explained how she is also in the process of starting to hand over responsibilities to the next generation, with her son Robbie taking on more of a senior management role.
“I’m very fortunate,” she said. “He has the will and thankfully the skill to take over from me. I’m very fortunate that I have someone who does want to take it on in the future – we do intend in the next few years that he will take over as MD and I will become the chair or chief executive and just be there to support him.”