ANDREW Malcolm, a stalwart of Scotland’s family business sector, often seems like a man of relatively few words.

However, as is frequently the case with individuals in the business world who plough on with things and do not seek out publicity, what he does have to say tends to grab the attention.

During an interview with Mr Malcolm back in the summer, in which he reflected on the past, present and future of a logistics and construction services business celebrating its centenary year, he provided a fascinating insight into what he viewed as his “job in life”.

While the priorities he laid out seemed in keeping with the culture of a venerable family business such as Malcolm Group – which has grown out of a coal-selling venture founded by his grandfather Walter Hattrick Malcolm in Johnstone 100 years ago – they were at the same time most refreshing.

The Malcolm Group chief executive declared: “My job in life is to protect the workforce I have got. I want to make sure every generation that works in the business sees a secure future, a secure income. Our first priority has been to create security and an income stream for people’s families that they can actually depend and rely on.”

Too often these days, businesses appear to be driven by short-termism, which can frequently destroy value over a longer time horizon. Professional management types flit from one post to another, sometimes with little knowledge of the sectors in which they land, and apply the same unimaginative restructuring and cost-cutting techniques, seemingly often with more regard for their bonus than the workforce.

Against this backdrop, Mr Malcolm’s reflections on his responsibility to his group’s workforce were not only a breath of fresh air but also most heartening.

Mr Malcolm, who last night picked up an outstanding contribution award for Malcolm Group at The Herald’s Scottish Family Business Awards, also in the June interview highlighted the fact that some of the current workforce are into the third and fourth generations of an “extended family” of employees.

It is always a privilege to be involved in the Scottish Family Business Awards. And what is most encouraging, as well as the economic and employment contribution of the huge range of family businesses sharing their stories, is the long-term thinking of so many of them. Like Malcolm Group, many have undergone major change over the years. However, in general, there tends to be much greater regard for employees among these family businesses as they navigate the ups and downs over years and decades.

Such businesses rightly reap the rewards of sticking with key principles and not being blown off course by short-term considerations or financial market fads.

Their family ownership, while not without its challenges in some cases, means they can focus on long-term value creation, and this is undoubtedly a good thing for staff, who in turn will often go the extra mile for these businesses, thus creating a virtuous cycle.

It is so much better than the vicious circle of cost-cutting and demoralisation you see from time to time in some companies in which senior executives too often appear focused on only the next quarter and do not lift their eyes to the horizon.

That is not to say that every, for example, stock market-listed business has a short-term outlook. Much depends on the sector and its fortunes, the resilience of management, and the make-up of the investor base.

However, there are many fine examples of Scottish family businesses which have benefited from being able to make the right decisions over years and decades by focusing on a long-term vision.

And, overall, family businesses seem far less driven by short-termism.

As Mr Malcolm put it in June: “Everything we do in Malcolm is about the long-term relationships. People need to give Malcolm a reason to change.”

In these days of what often seems like permanent upheaval in the corporate world, it is important to remember there is no point in change for change’s sake.

Mr Malcolm is clearly happy that the business, which has been on and off the stock market having been acquired by Grampian Holdings in November 1960 and taken private again in 2005, is back in family ownership.

He and brother Walter each own 49 per cent of Malcolm Group, with the remaining 2% held by some other long-serving members of the senior management team.

The chief executive, when interviewed in June in Malcolm Group’s heritage centre in Linwood at a giant boardroom table which came from Grampian Holdings, noted that the haulage and construction services business employed around 2,000 people, and had about 470 trucks, some 1,250 trailers and around 130 items of plant.

In the year to January 31, 2022, Malcolm Group made pre-tax profits of £10.6 million on turnover of £230.6m, with both of these figures comfortably ahead of those in the last full financial year before the pandemic.

Mr Malcolm puts the fact that the group is around today in its current form down to his father Donald, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer on his 60th birthday and given six months to live but went through 17 operations and died at the age of 78.

The chief executive said of his father: “If Donald Malcolm had died before his 61st birthday, we wouldn’t have been here today because Grampian would have sold us off to the highest bidder.

“Dad had that very strong can-do will and determination and he still had a very strong presence in the business – even in the last six months of his life he still had a presence.”

Malcolm Group’s story is an inspiring one.

And, with the children of Andrew and Walter Malcolm now firmly embedded in the group and the current chief executive still appearing perfectly happy at the wheel, the impressive journey of this family business over recent years and decades past will hopefully continue.

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