Radiating confidence: what a business course taught our family firm

Executive education updates

Nick:For our anniversary, I traveled to New York with my wife in 2016. I kept seeing custom-made radiators. They are required due to steam heating. But they were all so ugly. I thought, “We can do this better.” In 2018, we made the boldest, most daring move since Chris started the company. [Castrads]2005. To set up a New York office, I moved to New York. Adam then took over the running of the UK business.

Then came the pandemic and my wife was pregnant. I thought that we would have to close this fledgling business in New York.

I returned to the UK and we began working together like never before. Dad came back; he would be in the factory fixing toilets or doing whatever was necessary — we all were. The tap was turned back on in May and everyone began to clean up their homes. In 2020, New York’s turnover doubled. That happened is amazing.

FT Executive Education directories 2021

Our bank, Barclays had nominated us to take an executive education course with Cambridge Judge Business School just before the pandemic. Before I moved here, I found it difficult to envision the next steps for the company. I thought business education might help.

Adam:The course’s main focus was on scaling up small businesses. The executive education cohort was made up of approximately 30 businesses, each one divided by region. Signmakers, a care facility, shopfitters, and software companies were all found in our region. Interesting thing is that even though we were very different companies, our problems were similar.

As a small business, it was possible to be flexible at first. Because they could work from 6am to noon, factory workers were able to fit it around their personal lives. But as the business has grown, it has become difficult to meet customers’ needs as they do not shop from 6am to 2pm. We added the New York business, which was in another time zone.

© Emma Phillipson, for the FT

Nick:We realized that our past problems were all due to a weak culture when we completed the course.

Adam: Aside from changing the work hours, we have been trying to change this culture of “I do my job and then I go home”. We are working on new structures to reward all members of the team and promote a more team-oriented culture. We knew when something wasn’t working but didn’t know how to fix it.

Nick:We have been holding more frequent meetings to ensure that everyone understands what we’re working towards.

The pandemic meant that the entire course was offered online. This worked in certain ways better. For example, you could quickly take smaller groups into breakout “rooms” without having to physically change from a lecture theatre to a classroom.

The main difference, I believe, was at the end of the course. It was a bittersweet ending. You’ve spent weeks with these people and then you just say “bye” and close the window.

Adam:I will be meeting with one of the participants shortly. They are experts in automation and I thought they might be able to help our finance team.

Nick:We want to significantly grow our business in several countries and vertically integrate our supply chains. Adam and I will need to step back from the day-to-day operations of our current business to be able to focus on the new areas.

What we are trying to do is to empower key people in the business to become leaders in their own areas — for example, product development, marketing and finance — so that they can develop the business. These colleagues were with us on Judge.

Adam: It’s not always been plain sailing. There have been times when our dad looked at the business and didn’t recognize it. This has caused friction. But we are very fortunate in that he’s given us the freedom and responsibility to put our own stamp on things.

Nick:Although the opening in New York went smoothly, it was very difficult. But we intend to open in other European nations next because, as Frank Sinatra said, if you can make it in New York, you’ll make it anywhere.

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