The most important aspects of running a family business

Paul Wilcox discusses the ingredients required for a successful family business and what worked for his own company.

Growing a family business is about a shared purpose and ethos

Growing a family business is about a shared purpose and ethos

In my time as a company CEO, I have learned a great number of things that work well in business, and an even greater number of things that don’t.

When it comes to running a successful family business, I would say that the most important aspects are these: ethos, balance and innovation.

When it comes to both survival and growth of a family business, it is important to ensure that the business is endowed with a strong ethos and a sense of purpose.

At our company, the ethos – excellence, experience and elegance – is the essence of our brand. These values have been instrumental in crafting our sense of identity and our sense of purpose. I’m proud to say that, as a third-generation family-owned company, we still work to the traditional values established by my father, William Wilcox, when he first opened our doors for business in 1948. These values are reflected in everything that we do, in every vehicle that we build. They are standards with which we’ve long been associated, with which we’ve become synonymous. And standards of which we are rightfully proud and which we all work very hard to maintain.

A defined set of family values can also prove to be very productive in business, when it comes to structure. They set the standard to which to adhere and are solid foundations by which to organise the business around. In practical terms, they also help to inform the way the business is managed, the way in which family members interact with each other and they also influence the making of important decisions.

The balance of a family business

Another important aspect to establish when working with family is the ‘work-life balance’.

This is something that is very hard to achieve, for almost all business owners. But it’s ever harder when working with family, and yet even more crucial. There need to be boundaries in place. It can prove difficult, but you need to make sure that business doesn’t spill over into family time. It’s a balancing act, and it is one that can prove incredibly challenging to strike. But you must try, as best you can, to leave business in the office – which is easier said than done when your colleagues are your nearest and dearest.

I work closely with my daughter, Leila Wilcox, who is head of marketing and business development, and my nephew Louis Wilcox, who is our sales director. I can’t imagine wanting to work with anyone else other than my family. We have a very good working relationship, trust one another implicitly and run a thriving business. However, a lot of what makes our working dynamic such a success is how well we manage the transition from office-life to home-life. I’d be lying if I said business was never discussed outside of the office, of course, it finds its way into our conversations – but we are quick to draw the line. It is absolutely crucial, if you want your business to succeed, that you find a work-life balance that works for you and members of your family.

The key to lasting success, beyond of course, a simply brilliant product, is innovation. Too often family-owned businesses – and businesses in general – become inward looking and complacent.

Constant innovation

As a company, we are continually looking to ‘push-the-envelope’, to find new ways to innovate and improve our vehicles and add fresh impetus to the coachbuilding industry. We endeavour to blend our traditional coachbuilding experience with modern techniques and create truly unique vehicles.

An example of our commitment to innovation: In 2015, we designed and handbuilt the world’s fastest limousine, modelled from the Jaguar XJR. It was an opportunity for us to create something new and unique. The finished product was a feat of engineering. A testament to our dedicated team of engineers, combining extraordinary design with intuitive modern technology.

In 2016, we once again found new and exciting ways in which to create new products that incorporated modern design features. An example of this was the glass roof option that we introduced for our Jaguar hearse. The hearse itself was constructed using techniques more commonly associated with the aircraft and aviation industry – further proof of our dedication to continually improve the process by which we design and build our vehicles.

So, what effect does continually striving to improve and innovate have on a business? Well, last year was the best on record in the firm’s 69-year history. We managed to not only bring new and exciting products to both the domestic and international markets, but oversee a rise in sales of our market-leading Jaguar hearses, as well as sales of our more traditional models.

In truth, almost all businesses begin life as family businesses, but only a select few are capable of stepping up to the challenges that this form of ownership presents and prospering. It takes a serious and committed effort from all involved. To make a family business a success you need a strong ethos, an established balance and a desire to continually innovate and challenge the marketplace. As a third-generation family-owned business – one that is fast approaching its 70th birthday – I’m very proud to say were not only still going strong, but getting stronger.

Paul Wilcox is CEO of Wilcox Limousines

Further reading on family businesses

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