The trials and tribulations of running a family business by Avon Data managing director Sarah Cade

The trials and tribulations of running a family business by Avon Data managing director Sarah Cade

At Avon Data, we pride ourselves on being a second-generation family company which provides a more concentrated and personal service for clients than many of the big faceless corporates.

I run Avon Data alongside co-directors, my husband, technical director Mark Cade and my brother, head of development, Steven Springer. We took over from my father in 2009.

Since then Avon Data’s turnover has grown by 41% with an increase in net profit of 118%. We’ve invested heavily in new technology to keep Avon Data at the forefront of the industry and deliver the best possible service for our clients.

Day to day management

Most employers agree that recruitment is always a bit of a gamble and finding great reliable staff is one of the biggest challenges for many companies.

One of the benefits of running a family company is the level of trust because with family members in key positions you are able to rely on them more than when you recruit an unknown individual.

Family members who have a vested interest in the company succeeding are likely to be very committed to the business. If the company doesn’t succeed, we will all feel the impact so there is that extra incentive to work really hard.

It’s vital you learn to separate your personal and professional relationships but there are big advantages to working with people you know really well. We know how to get the best out of each other.

Our staff like working for a family run company. It makes us seem more approachable and human than when people are working for a big corporate entity. Family companies tend to foster a friendlier, more caring culture.

Steven, Mark and I have disagreements from time to time but we’re good at talking through things openly and having honest discussions.

The company wouldn’t be as successful without each one of us, so we have to find ways to work in harmony. You can’t always win someone round to your way of thinking – but we will compromise and find solutions that everyone is happy with.

Since we work with lots of independent and boutique hotels, many of which are family run, they tend to really like the fact we are a family company. We get prospective clients approaching us saying this is one of the things that appealed to them, perhaps having received poor service elsewhere in the past. It’s hard to know how bigger, more corporate businesses view us as a family company.

However, this is sector and business level dependent. I think it’s possible that we might not be taken as seriously as our non-family run competitors – I guess it is all a question of perspective.

Keeping things fair

When Steven, Mark and I became joint directors, we laid down some ground rules, and have stuck to them.  We all earn the same money, we stick to our working hours, and we take the same amount of annual leave.  This may seem rigid for directors of a company, but it keeps things fair – it means we are all putting the same amount in, and getting the same amount out.  If we came and went as we pleased, this would be a huge source of friction and just wouldn’t work.

Family business succession

Taking over the business from my parents was a tricky process. My father wanted to sell the business so Mark and I raised the money to buy him out, with my mother. As with any big business deal, this was a tense period.  In 2015, Steven also bought in to the business, and my mother stepped down as a director.

Every family business succession is very individual and different – in some cases the business is simply handed down but then people often encounter problems when the parents still want to influence things.

In our case buying my father out was stressful but once we had done that, he had what he wanted which was to comfortably retire, responsibility free, and we were able to get on with running the business how we wanted.

I think there is often a conflict between the older and younger generations as the younger family members want to drive things forward and embrace new ideas and change, while the older generation who have been in the business a long time are more attached to the status quo.

During the period when we were all working together, Mark and I wanted to develop our services to keep pace with new emerging technology and our father was more resistant to change.

Looking at how much Avon Data has progressed and grown in the last eight years, we can all agree that we made the right decisions in parting company. Now all three directors are united in our ambition to provide our clients with the best possible hotel management software and customer service.