SCOTLAND's family businesses deserve greater recognition for the vital contribution they make to the economy, said a sector champion, after a study demonstrated the incredible staying power such firms can show.

Scotland's 25 oldest family firms have been in business for more than 3700 years in total and trading for around 150 years on average.

The findings are contained in a report produced by Family Business United and supported by Close Brothers Asset Management which will be published tomorrow.

The report highlights family firms from a wide range of sectors, which have provided jobs in their local communities through decades featuring massive social and economic changes.

The list is headed by John White & Son, a small Fife firm specialising in weighing machines, which has been in business since 1715.

The report found the second oldest family firm is Johnstons of Elgin, a survivor of Scotland's once mighty textiles industry.

The top 25 features some Scottish businesses with real global reach.

Denholm, the Glasgow-based shipping to oil services heavyweight, ranks 10th oldest. It dates from 1866.

The Baxters soups to jam business founded in 1868 ranks 11th equal. Walkers Shortbread, founded in 1898, lies 21st equal in the table.

Both food businesses are based in rural north east Scotland and have long been major employers in the area.

Martin Stepek of the Scottish Family Business Association said the report provided a valuable reminder of the importance of the sector in Scotland.

He noted other research found family owned firms account for around 70% of the businesses base in Scotland and 50% of the private sector workforce.

"They are phenomenally important both in economic and social terms," said Mr Stepek.

"Everywhere in Scotland the bulk of the economy on the private sector side is family-based."

However, Mr Stepek lamented: "The Government aren't giving recognition of their importance and they're not encouraging them to be all they can be."

Noting there can by special dynamics in businesses owned by members of one family, Mr Stepek said official support schemes failed to take proper account of the sector.

Mr Stepek said Business Gateway seemed focused on start ups while Scottish Enterprise appeared to target high growth companies without recognising "almost all" family businesses have the potential to grow.

He says more advisers should be trained to understand the needs of family owned firms while most universities need to do much more to educate students about them.

While family businesses may have to deal with difficult inter-personal conflicts most can be resolved with support.

Penny Lovell, head of client services at Close Brothers, said there should be more recognition of the importance of family businesses. "It's amazing how adaptable these family businesses are," she said.

Based in Auchtermuchty, John White & Son has reinvented itself several times.

The business started off manufacturing iron weighing machines and developed its own foundries. It switched to producing electronic machines after the war before deciding to focus on providing services like installing and servicing weighing systems.

With turnover of £1 million, the company has 13 employees.

Managing director Edwin White is a member of the eighth generation of the family to own the business.

"To us being a family business gives us the freedom to shape the direction and the long-term goals of the business not just for the owners, but for all the stakeholders; the employees, the customers, the community," he said.

Mr White thinks that external investors may buy into firms hoping to boost profits in the short term before selling them on.

He added: "We've a personal interest and it's not just a job. It's something we want to hand on, we are like stewards of the business."

Plans have been made to hand the business on to the next generation.

But Mr White said family businesses can face complications, not least when clan members want to go their own way. He noted:"You have to be able to separate the personal from the business."

l The Herald Scottish Family Business Awards 2013 are open for entries. For information visit