Could you ever imagine working with your mum and dad?
Gemma Sandy joined the family firm five years ago. Her dad Michael O’Grady is her boss, her mum works with them several days a week and they believe their family bond gives them a big competitive advantage.
Father and daughter have worked together in two separate businesses now and say it’s something they’ll never change - even though it wasn’t something they had ever envisaged.
“I went off to university to study animal behaviour and training,” explains 33-year-old Gemma, who concedes that five years cleaning up after dogs wasn’t the highlight of her career.
“I’d hoped to work with dogs in either a welfare or training role but I re-assessed my ambitions following the degree and began to look at other options.”
After a succession of short term roles, and with her parents’ Barnsley-based express logistics business growing, “ideas person” Gemma suggested she join the family firm.
“My mum and dad were looking for someone and I said “have me”. They interviewed me at home in the conservatory. It was a bit surreal but I got the job!” she says.
“I started as marketing manager with the business, but from day one I was involved with customer services and really enjoyed it.”
“There’s no doubt about it - she excelled,” adds Michael. “I’ve heard it said that family relationships in a business don’t often work but we’ve always got on well and so thought we’d have a go.”
Since then, Michael, Gemma and mum Janette haven’t looked back.
They ploughed their collective efforts into their express logistics firm, based at Barnsley Business and Innovation Centre at Wilthorpe, and grew the business to well in excess of £500k in annual revenue and the capability to handle upwards of 2000 international express shipments per month on behalf of around 250 clients across the Sheffield City Region.
This spring another opportunity arose to manage and develop BCR Associates, a company which helps businesses across Yorkshire to increase profitability by cutting their running costs - such as electricity, gas, telecoms, insurance, business supplies, staff, finance, water, vehicles and green services.
The family decided to expand their portfolio and Michael, 56, and Gemma have got off to a flying start, dramatically reducing clients’ spend on a wide range of overheads.
“We initially planned to run both businesses alongside each other but BCR Associates got off to such a good start we decided to concentrate our efforts on the new business and sold the express logistics company,” added Michael.
This summer the family moved to new business premises at the luxurious Penistone 1 office development and the new venture is proving successful, with consultancy work underway in range of sectors including manufacturing, education, technology, retail, leisure and hospitality, agriculture and health care.
They employ one member of staff and Gemma’s mum Janette, dubbed “chief organiser” of the four-strong team, oversees the books and general administration several days a week.
“We work really well together,” says Gemma. “We don’t have any problems keeping work and home separate really. Sometimes I’ll send my mum or dad texts on an evening or sometimes we’ll just discuss things if I’m at their house.
“We’re constantly bouncing ideas off each other. And then we conclude that my dad’s right” laughs Gemma.
“We have the same personalities and same outlook. We also trust each other implicitly. Trust is so important in a business.”
Michael adds with a smile: “Trust is like virginity… once it’s gone, it’s gone forever!”
Michael and Gemma clearly share the same dry sense of humour which helps enormously when creating a culture within a business.
“It helps massively that we get on and have a laugh,” says Gemma. “But it goes beyond that – we share the same values and ethics. I’ve had 33 years of my parent’s values guiding me and we know exactly how we want this business to operate.
“We’re not pushy and we believe in developing strong relationships with clients. Most of our business comes through referrals and our clients trust us to provide the best advice and deliver them the best deals across a wide range of services.
“Trust is a massive aspect of our business and I believe that clients can see just how much we trust and respect each other. Some businesses take a lifetime to demonstrate how aligned they are. With us, it comes naturally.”
Michael O’Grady was a late starter in business.
He was 48 and had survived four successive redundancies, battled his way through a string of jobs working evenings and weekends and got his career back on track by becoming an area manager in the NHS.
But when early retirement was offered, he saw it as chance to change his life - and set up in business.
“I’d seen my dad pass up the opportunity to be his own boss because people just accepted the hand they were dealt in the old days. My dad was a craftsman, a mason bricklayer, and although he had the opportunity to be self-employed, he accepted his lot and worked for others all his life,” says Michael.
“I always had a hankering to work for myself but family commitments means I didn’t do it until later in life. Janette and I both took early retirement from the NHS and began to look for something new.
“Initially we looked at available business opportunities, everything from corner shops to art galleries. We even considered running a post office in North Yorkshire but that required a total lifestyle change.
“We started to look at franchise opportunities and when I saw one within the logistics field, which I’d known all my career, we took the leap and the rest is history.”
Michael feels the family bond at BCR Associates, which also has Gemma’s partner Louise as a co-owner, benefits customers.
“We’re incredibly comfortable with each other and work really effectively as a family unit. I think there’s something very special about family businesses and we’ve even integrated this thinking into our business planning,” he says.
“We actively target other family businesses because we appreciate how difficult and time-consuming running them can be. Our aim is to get them to see us both as an extension of their business and as trusted advisors in the procurement space. We’ve been given bad advice from people we thought we could trust and it’s cost us dearly.
“I think family-run businesses respect each other and that we should be working together and supporting each other’s growth.”