An association dedicated to assisting Scotland’s vast number of family businesses has officially come into being, thanks in no small measure to the drive of a prominent craft baker.

George Stevenson, MD of Falkirk-based Mathiesons Bakers, has been a leading light in the development of the Scottish Family Business Association (SFBA), which aims to provide a forum for sharing family business issues and practical help in resolving problems.

It will also be a source of information, best practice and learning materials, and a conduit for conveying the family business view to government.

Practical experience

The SFBA’s top tier comprises family business leaders with considerable practical experience of family business issues including succession, inheritance, the involvement of non-family members, and improving family communication. Mr Stevenson becomes SFBA chairman, while the eight-strong board also includes Graeme Ross, commercial director of Inverurie-based JG Ross.

SFBA launches in six Scottish cities are being headlined by TV personality Kaye Adams, whose own family runs a business. According to Mr Stevenson, these events have attracted representatives from a broad spectrum of industries and have highlighted issues common to many family firms, such as how to manage sensitively a senior member’s withdrawal from a business without losing what they have to offer.

He adds: “It’s a relief for people to hear that others have similar problems.”

The facts and figures emphasise not only the scale of family ownership across Scotland’s business base but also the extent of unresolved, family-related issues. Almost 70% of Scottish companies describe themselves as family businesses, broadly in line with the European average of 75%. Research shows that 73% of these firms want to keep the business in family hands from one generation to another, and yet 57% have no defined plan for succession.

Initial aims

The SFBA’s first year will focus on building credibility and a membership base, says Mr Stevenson. Longer term, his aim is to involve 500 companies in the SFBA, within the first two years, and possibly 1,000 firms within five years. To date, those joining the association’s ranks have included eight bakery firms.

SFBA membership will afford exclusive access to: peer-to-peer networking forums; one-to-one mentoring; business education; personal development; professional advice; a quarterly newsletter; email updates; research resources; and also social events and conferences.

Based on his own experience, Mr Stevenson says many firms could gain from the appointment of a non-executive director, who is not a member of family; not least because they can act as an impartial chairman in the board room. “The association is looking at short courses to train senior executives to be non-executive directors for other businesses,” he explains.

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