SUCCESSION planning for family businesses and the dynamics of family relationships came under the spotlight at The Herald Scottish Family Business Breakfast event, in association with Business Gateway, in Glasgow today with one panellist cautioning that company owners should not assume that their children will want to join the family business.

Councillor Gail Macgregor, who is leader of Dumfries & Galloway Council and Cosla spokesperson for environment and economy with Business Gateway – and runs a beef and sheep farming business with her husband – said at the event, also sponsored by Virgin Money and LOCALiQ: “There should not be an assumption that your family will come into the business.

“They must be allowed to go off and do what they want to do – and come back if that is what they want to do.”

Another panellist, James Taylor, who is managing director of Taylor’s Snacks, a fourth-generation family farming business based in Perthshire, agreed that it was important for family members to get external experience before returning to the family fold. “That’s exactly what I did,” he said.

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“I joined Marks & Spencer on a graduate programme then worked with Unilever before coming back to the farm in 2016/17 – I’m the generation that has come back after getting experience elsewhere. I think, for me, that was really important because I learned a lot although I was always passionate about coming back to the business.”

Joining the conversation was Julie Dunn, director of operations at Blantyre-based wholesaler and soft drinks manufacturer Dunns Food and Drinks, said that her business partner Jim Rowan’s son, Nathan, had recently joined the business and was “very happy”. She added: “I have two teenage children, aged 14 and 16, and my heart clenches at the prospect of them not wanting to be part of the family business.”

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She said that the approach at Dunns, which aims to lift turnover to £50 million in 2025, when it will celebrate its 150th anniversary, was always to be “open and honest” – with family, staff, customers and suppliers.

Paul Smith, owner and executive chef at The Inn at Kippen in Stirlingshire who, with his partner Laura, has recently acquired The Fintry Inn and has ambitions for further expansion, said he hoped that his elder children would one day join the business. A family business, he added, had so much to offer its local community: “We keep the local supply chain going, we employ local people.”

Event host Brian Taylor, the political commentator and Herald columnist, evoked laughter among the audience of about 70 representatives from businesses across Scotland when he asked if their firms could be compared to the family business at the centre of the hit TV series Succession, starring Dundee-born actor Brian Cox.

Admitting that she had yet to see the series, Ms Dunn said that some companies could face challenges when they have family members who are shareholders who do not work in the business. “You don’t want to be in a situation where the people who work in the business resent those who don’t.”

Keynote speaker Andrew Malcolm, chief executive of The Malcolm Group, the Renfrewshire-based company which marked its centenary in 2022, shared some fascinating insight into how the long-established Scottish logistics giants had grown from humble roots with a horse-and-cart coal round to the hugely successful UK-wide business it is today.

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Talking the audience through the company’s growth and its acquisition by Grampian Holdings in 1960, then its return to private ownership in 2002, he said: “We were a private group caught up in a plc web but throughout all our history we have never lost sight of the fact that in business your strongest asset is your people.

“Even during Covid we brought in apprentices and today we have 2,000 employees, some of them the third generation in their family to work for us,” he added, recalling that the firm awarded a 50-year service award to a father and a 25-year award to his son on the same day.”

Admitting that family companies can “create their own stress”, Mr Malcolm said: “When anyone wants to discuss something, I always say ‘bring solutions with you’ because that’s what we do: we talk to people, we listen to people – and that’s one of the reasons why the company is in a strong position financially, and in a strong position with our customers and workforce.”

At 61 and the fourth generation of his family at the helm of The Malcolm Group, he still “loves what I do” but accepts that company structure and succession planning is just as crucial for the business as it is for all family companies, regardless of their size.

Earlier, when asked by the event host if family firms could be in a better position to take a longer-term approach to business during challenging times because they don’t have to consider the short-term needs of shareholders, he agreed that family firms could often make decisions more quickly but insisted that unless there were clear structures and processes in place, backed up by strong communication, businesses of any size would struggle.

Periods of uncertainty such as Covid, said Mr Smith, provided his business with new income streams that would “not have been on table before”, adding: “We started an online cook school on a Tuesday night which was a good communication tool for us to reach the local community at that time but it also created community spirit and helped people with their mental health."

There were some interesting answers, too, when an audience member asked the panel if there was anything they wished they had done differently in their business in the past. James Taylor commented: “I’ve been fortunate in that my father is fairly open-minded and entrepreneurial but perhaps at times we have not brought the right people into the business quickly enough.”

From Ms Dunn’s perspective, it was case of “not being brave enough to challenge my dad on setting up proper family governance”. She added: “He was always of the view that ‘don’t worry, that won’t happen to us’. But, of course, it does happen.

Closing the event, Mr Taylor asked the panel what Scotland could “make better” for its family businesses. “Communicating with business is crucial,” offered Ms MacGregor. “Governments should not create policies without speaking to the people they will affect.”

In agreement with that sentiment, Mr Malcolm – who was awarded an MBE in the King’s Birthday Honours list – added: “Governments must sit down with businesses, engage with them and communicate.”

Commenting on today’s event, which was supported by CoVault, Cllr Macgregor said: “I’m delighted to have been part of The Herald Family Business Breakfast, an event dedicated to celebrating the strength and resilience of family-owned businesses. The speakers brought their passion and expertise to the forefront, and it was a reminder that innovation, determination and family values are the cornerstones of success in businesses throughout Scotland.

“Events like this are also an excellent opportunity for networking and meeting people from other businesses and sector.”

Virgin Money’s head of strategic finance – west of Scotland David Henderson said: “At Virgin Money we recognise our economy and the businesses who operate within it are still adjusting to the post-pandemic ‘new normal’, so it was great to see so many attendees from the family business community in attendance as we relaunched this face-to-face event and to hear some really insightful thoughts from the speakers on the day.”

Entries for The Herald Scottish Family Business Awards, in association with Business Gateway and launched at today’s breakfast event, are now open and close on October 17. The event will take place at DoubleTree by Hilton, Glasgow Central, on December 7. Enter at