David Sershall, Managing Director of Beard Construction, shares his insights into taking the helm of a family-owned and run business.
I took over as MD of regional construction group Beard last year from owner Mark Beard when he became Executive Chairman. I was taking the helm of a four generation family-owned business and knew that this was both an opportunity and a risk.
What I was sure of when I joined the company, was that when it came to business Mark and I both shared the same values. We were passionate about looking after our staff, providing great customer service and being better tomorrow than we are today. But sharing values is not always enough to make the transition a success. There’s a lot of hard work that needs to happen on both sides if the relationship – and the business – are not just going to survive but thrive. A business owner has to have the courage to give his or her MD the breathing space to do what they feel is right for the business. In turn, the MD has to respect the name above the door. Mark gave me that breathing space but of course, we still spend time together discussing the big strategic decisions.
Another key to success is using your Non-Executive Directors proactively: they should be a critical friend and can help resolve any tension and smooth the path if there are any disagreements or differences. I also have an executive coach, something I asked for and Mark supported. That’s been really helpful as a totally independent sounding board.
Think carefully about the timing of bringing a new MD into the business. We spent the first few months in the run-up to the start of the new financial year business planning and really understanding each other. So by the time, we hit January we were aligned on targets and expectations. This was a big decision and a big change for Mark too and this ’honeymoon’ period ‘ allowed us to get to know each other and appreciate that we could get on over more than a cup of coffee. On the other hand, we’re not in each other’s pockets. There is a healthy distance between us outside of the office. We respect that we have different interests.
Our business is growing, so there are new faces joining all the time who will have no experience of anything other than the business as it is today. But I was very conscious that, with a low attrition rate, there was a real core of employees for whom this was also a big change and you have to make sure you take them with you. Respect the brand that sits above the door and the people that have helped make it what it is. Don’t throw everything up in the air and embark on ‘initiative overload’. Beard hasn’t been a successful business by chance and I understood that. We continue to talk very much about ‘the Beard way’.
Finally, one of the key lessons I’ve learned over the years is to make sure people fully understand what your role is within the company and the management structure: there is nothing more confusing or destabilising than people thinking they have two bosses!
Beard is an award-winning, £136 million turnover construction company which operates across the South of England. With offices in Oxford, Swindon, Bristol and Guildford, the company undertakes design and build, new build, restoration and refurbishment on a range of projects, including complex projects, up to £16 million for public and private sector organisations. Established in 1892, the family-owned company has significant expertise in building for the healthcare, arts and culture, commerce and industry, education, ecclesiastical, elderly care, sports and leisure and defence sectors
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