How do companies survive beyond 100 years with the odds stacked against them? The secret to longevity is not easy to define, with many internal and external factors influencing success and failure.

Market conditions, economics, politics, and the changing face of consumerism all contribute to the difficulty of making predictions and building strategies to ensure survival, especially if a business is in a niche market.

With four in 10 business failing in the first five years and the average business expectancy sitting at around 15 to 20 years, is there something that can be learned from older firms? How have they changed and adapted to still thrive in a world that is very different to the one in which they started?

In 1875 Peter Ross Millar and William Moir Bryce established Millar & Bryce in Edinburgh, to provide legal searches to solicitors dealing with property transactions. Bryce, the principal partner, was well known in legal circles and had originally been a member of the official searching department at the Registers of Scotland.

He saw a need to reform how legal searching was conducted in Scotland, on the back of rising property fraud. Building relationships and communicating his new approach to solicitors, he gained their support and defined the process of legal searching, trailblazing a new timely and accurate process.

In an article from The Scots Law Times, dated November 1909, it was reported that Bryce, by then aged 67, instituted the method of certificates of search, now more commonly referred to as a legal report in today’s conveyancing terminology. Where Bryce seemed to be at the forefront of change, innovation and engagement, it appears that his partner Millar looked after the operational and financial side of the business and thus a successful partnership emerged.


This article was published in the December edition of Business HQ - click here to view

In the Scottish Post Office Directory of 1909, Millar & Bryce was listed as having a telephone, a rare and expensive commodity in Edinburgh at this time, further showing the commitment to adopting “new” advancing communication and technology during a period of change and innovation.

In 1918, Millar & Bryce lost William Bryce, when he died at the age of 76. During the 43 years that he was responsible for building the success of Millar and Bryce, he achieved many things, most notably his strong sense of company identity.

His principles are preserved for posterity in the many books he wrote. These underpinned his decision making and drive to be the leader in the searching industry. His foresight to change, adapt and develop as a business, along with his resilience during periods of great change at the turn of the century was crucial to the early years of Millar & Bryce.

These fundamental traits still remain in the company DNA today.

So what happened after 1918?

Coming out of the First World War, there were two decades before the outbreak of the unthinkable – a second world war. There were multiple political changes, growth, and stagnation in the UK and global economies, which impacted the housing market in Scotland and the related search requirements.

However, Millar & Bryce did not stand still. It continued to work with solicitors and the wider profession to enhance and build robust searches and associated products. It developed relationships with leading academics at the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, who had known the work of Bryce.

As in any business, management came and went, as did the notion of a “job for life”.

However, there was a real sense of investment in people at Millar & Bryce in the 1970s, along with the idea of reward and recognition.

Some of the young recruits from this time are still with Millar & Bryce, bringing more than 40 years of experience to how the company operates today.

In the 1990s the company revisited publications for the first time since 1885 and the First Edition of our Basic guide to Scottish Conveyancing was published. Aimed at newly qualified conveyancing solicitors to give them practical information in the workplace, it has been a resource that has been built upon over the years. In 2018 the fourth edition was launched, and it is as well-received now as it was 30 years ago – although demand for an iPad and Android compatible version are now also required.

Writing searches by hand also changed in the 1990s, when Millar & Bryce was the first to introduce word-processed reports. This has developed into computerised templates, automated reporting, and system tools to record and report to our customers.

In January 2019, technology will be taken to a new level internally, launching an end-to-end operational solution, using the Salesforce platform.

The company will also launch a new online platform with the ability to streamline and integrate in the future, making the process between Millar & Bryce and its customers even more efficient. This £1.2 million investment is the conclusion of a two-year project, which has introduced new innovations to enhance and fulfil the demand for technology that solicitors now require.

Why is it important to reflect now? In August 2018, it removed all of the telephones from the office and moved to Skype for business. The sight of more than 100 phones piled high on a desk, almost 110 years in from the first registration the Post Office Directory, made Millar & Bryce consider past, present, and future as well as the successes.

No company can survive without bumps in the road and Millar & Bryce has negotiated many, but with the right mix of ideas, principles, identity, focus, innovation, relationships, and good clear communication all underpinned by value-adding technology, the company can continue to strive forward, inspire . . . and lay the pathway for the next 100 years.

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