Putting Values At The Heart Of Your Business
Jeremy and Esther recently sat down with the lovely people at The Institute of Family Business (IBF). Here's a transcript of that interview:
'How did Higham & Co first start?
“The first real break was when a friend called us asking if we would be interested in making a film for IKEA. The company wanted to re-tell their founding vision and use a film to inspire their workforce worldwide, back to the founding values. We enjoyed that project so much we just thought - we want to do this for more companies.”
What is at the core of Higham & Co?
“There are a lot of amazing stories to tell within the business world. However, most companies operate below who they are because this world is very hard. Companies get tired and loose courage to strive for the original big goal, and end up thinking mainly about the bottom line. As a result their heart becomes disconnected from their work. What we love to do is helping to lift some of this weight and say - guys, look at who you are. That is something that brings us a lot of joy.
“When your heart becomes disconnected that is dangerous for the company because you care more for the bottom line than serving your clients for the pleasure of it. And the reason why it is particularly interesting to work with family business is that in family business their heart, their emotions are normally deeply connected into the business.”
What does the process of rediscovering the passion behind a family business entail?
“Founders get to a point of growth in their business where the original story is no longer shared in the same way as when it was at the very beginning, when the business was first started. But if the founder can tell this story on film, this can be easily shared with the staff, so that they can connect with the business, and the owners themselves can reconnect with their own story as their passion re-emerges.
“It is vital that a company recovers its distinctiveness and the original founding passion that allowed it to grow. We help recover the heart of the company, and that impacts the bottom line, but it takes time.”
What is your most memorable experience of seeing this happen?
“We were making a film for a family firm that had been making toasters for 50 years. The founder’s son said: ‘I have my best ideas lying in the bath’. Without a film to share this, how many people would have known this story and how much he cares about the business? When we show that film to people they say: ‘I really want one of those now I know the story and have seen the passion’. The film has been on the front page of their website for five years.
“We believe that most companies promote too much. As a result they reveal not the quality of what they do, but their need and desperation. We believe that they don’t need to do that, but they need other people help them celebrate who they really are. That’s what our films do.
“As well as personality and passion, the process comes forward. People understand how the product is made and the story behind it.
“We believe that there is a passion that sometimes is covered up. In family business there is a story woven in, already there, so it is perhaps easier to draw it out.”
Do you feel that this approach also strengthens the business internally?
“It massively strengthens internal culture, connecting staff with the founder’s story and the internal values.”
What additional edge does being copreneurs give to your family business?
“A company is always a bit like a family anyway. For a business to have a mother and father figure is really helpful. We wanted the family’s name over the door, so you know who you’re buying from and you can be held accountable. We are also very much like a family with our business team, we eat together every day.”
To what extent are your family’s values embedded in the business?
“We are self-consciously a values-led company. Some of our staff are quite young, they could be our sons and daughters. We are quite deliberate about training and coaching our staff, to encourage them to think about the values we believe in.
“We encourage them to think that work is what you do to realise who you are, what special things you could bring, and a means to find joy. So we hire people on this basis. We believe work ultimately is a joyful activity.”
What are your plans as to next generation involvement in the family business?
“Our ten-year old son is already very interested in films, computers and technology. He regularly inspects our website, and he has a view on a lot of things in the company. He is naturally entrepreneurial.
“We would love him to be involved in the business from his early teens, because we believe he is already showing signs of being able to make a contribution.
“And his younger sister wants to set up a sweet shop!”
What are your expectations for the future of the business?
“I look forward for the next generation to taking the business forward, but always respecting the family values.”
How is it for you working as a couple in business?
“The more we work together the more we interweave, we talk all the time. We have our first meeting at quarter to seven in the morning, in bed with a cup of coffee.
“We get on very well, but we do a lot of talking to make sure we are unified on what we decide. We wonder whether it is more difficult for the team, because we are so strongly emotionally connected.
“But we chose to have another non-family director shareholder, who is like a third strand and stops us approaching things as a couple.”
How do you separate the business from the family?
“We start early, but we are pretty good at not bringing the business home in the evenings and at weekends.
“We have an understanding that rest is foundational value. It is vital for good decision-making in running a company. We get a hangover if we talk business in the evening!” '