We’re a family business, and are very proud to be so. My name’s Ruth and I decided a few years ago that I was going to take over The Sticker Factory when Mum and Dad no longer run it. Guardian Careers recently got in touch and wanted to know why I decided to make this decision and what it’s like. I was very happy to oblige, and while what they’ve got on their blog is great, my original version is slightly different. Here it is:
“Taking over the family business? What made you decide to do that?” – I get asked this a lot.
For me, it began with a sticker. My Mum started ‘The Sticker Factory’ when my twin sister, little brother and I were young. When I was nine I asked if I could draw a sticker for her, and to this day she still uses the design she created based on my drawing.
A few years ago when I was home in Suffolk visiting from university I asked Mum what she would do with The Sticker Factory when she and Dad were no longer there to run it. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe sell it, give it to someone, I’m not sure”. I didn’t like the idea that it might be taken over by someone who didn’t understand the business, its ethics, design ethos and everything it stands for.
At that point in time I was studying for an MA in History of Art, and was seriously considering applying for a PhD. But stickers have always been in the back of my mind, and the conversation with Mum made me realise that if I did go down the PhD route I would regret not taking the opportunity to continue the family business. The only thing that makes me a little sad about not pursuing an academic career is that I’ll never be able to call myself ‘Dr Ruth’!
I’m now 25 and have been working for The Sticker Factory for just over a year. We design and make stickers and other reward products for lots of people, mostly for schools, hospitals, parents, guardians and child carers. It’s been a steep learning curve, and I’m lucky to have had the support of Mum, Dad and our wonderful team.
I love working with my parents. We offer each other a level of understanding and support that you rarely find from a non-family work colleague. We also question and scrutinise each other in a way that I think only family can, and this can be tough.
A few months ago I had a hard conversation with Dad. I felt that part of a project he was managing was not being done as effectively as it could be, so I wanted to sit down with him and Mum and tell them I thought it would be best if I took it over.
For a few days I’d been going over in my head about what to say and how to say it, and was struggling. Then one day Dad and I were having a discussion about a part of the project I’d involved the team in: he thought it wasn’t the best idea that I’d done this, but I stood by my decision. As I was listening I knew this was the right time to tell him. It’s all a bit of a nervous blur, but I looked at him and said very firmly that I thought it would be best if I took the project over. He looked a little shocked (and Mum looked a bit impressed!), it’s not a tone of voice I use very often. It was tough, but once we’d finished talking, and I’d finished shaking, I knew it was the right thing to have done. I’m pleased to say that he thought so to!
I often get asked if it’s hard being ‘the bosses’ daughter’…. yes and no. We’re really lucky that our team have been with the business for years, so for a long time I’ve known them and they’ve known ‘the bosses’ daughter’, and for me this has made coming into the business a smooth transition. I manage certain areas and projects, but overall Mum, Dad and the team manage me. I’m the newest member of staff by quite a few years, and while I’ve grown up with the business, in that time they’ve been in it, building it, and have so much that they have taught and continue to teach me. For me being ‘the bosses’ daughter’ means so much: it’s tough because I worry if I can successfully continue the legacy that Mum, Dad and the team have been building over the past 15 years, but that I have this opportunity makes me feel very lucky to be able to say it.
I hear lots of people say that working with your family isn’t, or shouldn’t be, personal: it’s just business. But it is personal and it is business, and that can be a very good thing. It requires hard work to make it so though. You need a strong framework, clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and a high level of accountability to leave you secure in the knowledge that working with your family is the best thing for you and the business.
As a family and a business we’re lucky to have had some great support and guidance from the team at GrowthAccelerator while we’re beginning this journey. Jim, our Growth Coach, is great at asking those tricky, but brilliant, questions that make you work something out between you rather than just being told what to do. It can be irksome at times, but it’s one of the most important things you can do.
I believe working with family is something very special. If you’re considering it then think about it carefully, talk about it, and make sure you, and everyone else, is doing it for the right reasons. You need to work out and understand the advantages and disadvantages that will be specific to you and the business, and know that you can handle them. It’s a job, a career, but it’s also something more. That ‘something more’ is hard to pinpoint, but if you can then I believe you’re on the right road.