Book Reviews: Unsexy Business and Family Business

If you want to know how to succeed in business and how to protect your family business it makes sense to discover what people who have succeeded in business and come from a family one suggest. These two books offer just that opportunity.

Unsexy but inspiring

As it is entitled Unsexy Business – How 12 Entrepreneurs in Ordinary Business achieved Extraordinary Success and how you can too one can pretty much know what to expect from Jamie Waller’s book. Waller built a successful debt collection business – starting with £25k in 2001 and reaching turnover of £1m in the first 12 months. This is the business however that Waller walked away from when he realised that of the three directors of the company he was doing all the work and had a more professional approach. Integrity and determination intact he set up on his own – except for the staff from the original company who left safe jobs to join his start up. To cut a long story short the eponymous JBW debt enforcement business went from a £45k investment in 2004 to a £33m sale in 2017. For inspiration purposes one could stop at Waller’s story. He writes an easily digestible, honest, punchy account of his business success and some of the startling threats to business he had to deal with.

Jamie Waller
Jamie Waller: what’s unsexy? A real solid business used all the time

Taking what could be considered business top tips the rest of the book deals with the stories of other entrepreneurs: Mike Clare of Dreams the bed retailer; Matt Storey, wholesale warehousing M&M Supplies; Lara Morgan of hotel toiletries supplier Pacific Direct; Reginal Larry-Cole of Buy2Let Cars, the sub-prime car leasing company; Rami Ranger of food exporter Sun Mark; Thomas Delgado of, the second hand car dealer; Harry Clarke of parking payment company RingGo; Kate Lester of logistics firm Diamond Logistics; Nick Broom of PVL which does high visibility vehicle livery, Charlie Mullins of Pimlico Plumbers and Martyn Dawes, retail coffee machine provider Coffee Nation.

And the top tips? Get your hands dirty and start small; turn pennies into pounds; stop emailing and phone; don’t take no for an answer; play the long game, replicate don’t innovate. They might sound like clichés but each chapter supports how one successful business entrepreneur has largely achieved what they have by following such rules. Each engaging interview – Waller has gone round to each of his selected business owners himself and interrogated them as to what they did and how – ends with lessons from Jamie inspired by the entrepreneurs and the stories they have told him.

Whether you are starting up, investing, looking for an employer, already a success, interested in business or frankly even if you don’t think that you are, you will find this an absorbing read. It’s gritty and exhausting but ultimately inspiring.

Waller now runs a private equity firm Firestarters. He knows the questions to ask of business and of owners and has a respect for them and a passion to learn what they do and how and this shows through these pieces.

He says: “If I can help others to succeed in business. I have run and grown many businesses over my life and made most of the mistakes anyone can make so if with cash and time I can help others to be as successful as I have been if not greater while making fewer mistakes that can only be a good thing.

Published by Harriman House, Unsexy Business is available from Amazon and WH Smith, priced £14.99

Keeping it in the Family

Your Business Your Family Their Future

Your Business, Your Family, Their Future – How to Ensure Your Family Enterprise Thrives for Generations by Emily Griffiths-Hamilton could almost be the book that Canadian Griffiths-Hamilton wrote because she needed it. Except that she probably wouldn’t have needed it. Griffiths-Hamilton knows of which she speaks as a third generation entrepreneur: her grandfather being vet Dr William Ballard, wealth creator and investor of a popular dog food formula which he then canned for distribution. Her father built a media and sports empire and owned national hockey team The Vancouver Canucks. Griffiths-Hamilton herself co-owned the team and financed the construction of a ‘state of the art’ area in Vancouver and bought one of the first National Basketball Association franchises, the Vancouver Grizzlies.

Griffiths-Hamilton bring her own and her family’s experiences and operations to the fore in putting together a comprehensive and eminently readable guide for owners and members of a family business as to how to they can ensure the stability and longevity of their business.

Griffiths-Hamilton refers to the family factor and the ‘family enterprise framework’ and repeatedly to building a successful ‘multigenerational family enterprise’.

Only 30% of family businesses successfully transition to the next generation and clearly there are myriad reasons for this. Successful families she says share a number of traits but these traits ‘seemed lost in a sea of unnecessary complications’.

Instead of business governance implying a complex, rigid structure, Griffiths-Hamilton refers to ‘family enterprise framework’ something ‘both flexible and solid enough to allow for sound decisions to be made by future generations ‘which in turn allows your family enterprise to evolve and thrive for many generations to come’.

Emily Griffiths-Hamilton
Emily Griffiths-Hamilton (BMO Nesbitt Burns), who has written a book on how families can retain wealth from generation to generation.

Griffiths-Hamilton starts with outlining the processes one could or should go through when deciding whether to sell or not sell the business. That of course could mean to the family. But the key thing is to plan – as Griffiths-Hamilton says plan, don’t avoid – ‘If the future ownership of the family business remains unclear, the best and brightest key stakeholders may well leave the business or abandon efforts to prepare themselves for joining it, preferring to align their talents and efforts with a future opportunity they can reasonably depend on.’

A chapter on family offices covers the start of what ought to be thought through when managing the wealth a family has amassed.

This is the sort of book one can read at a sitting or dip in and out of as required. It is almost certainly business owners will refer back to as their businesses and their plans develop, change or come together.

There are sections on ‘hard’ business considerations dealing with conflict resolution, shareholding, shareholder agreements, compensation policies, management structures and there are discussions of ‘soft’ but no less important considerations such as trust, communication and openness.

It’s all here and you know that why Griffiths-Hamilton is a successful business adviser what you are reading are the thoughts and words of a member of a family business – just like you.

The book is available on Amazon (, and is also stocked in Waterstones and WH Smith. ISBN 978-1-77327-053-1.

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