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Q & A

How we run our successful family business

Andrew Keeble, co-founder and managing director of Heck, explains how he, his wife, sons and daughter run their hugely successful business

We speak to Andrew Keeble for his tips for working in a family run business.

Andrew Keeble started Heck in April 2013. Previously, he had grown and sold another hugely successful sausage brand with his wife, Debbie, but this time they enlisted the support of their sons and daughter, who still work for the family firm. So, what’s the key to running a successful family business?

Name: Andrew Keeble, founder and managing director of Heck Food Limited

Business: North Yorkshire-based Heck is an independent, premium sausage maker and brand. Its sausages are available in many varieties (mostly using high quality farm-assured meat, but there are meat-free options) and can be bought online or from most UK supermarkets and many smaller independent stores.

Background: Keeble and wife started the premium sausage brand, Debbie & Andrew’s in 1999, which became highly successful. They sold it six years later, staying on to run the business for a few years. After a Dutch food giant bought the business, the Keebles left in 2012, as they were no longer able to control how products were made. A year later, they started Heck, which has a 55% share of the independent premium sausage market.

Which family members are involved in the business?

Andrew Keeble (AK): “As well as Debbie and me, our sons. Jamie looks after sales and marketing, Roddy is head of production and engineering, while Guy works on the family farm at Kirklington. Our daughter Ellie also looks after HR, she joined a bit later, but my sons helped to launch the business.”

Were you worried about mixing business and family?

AK: “No, I wasn’t. After leaving Debbie & Andrew’s, we had to start again, obviously, on a much smaller scale. We were literally making sausages at night and selling them during the day. Things have grown significantly, but right from the early days, we all had specific roles and responsibilities in the business. We try not to, but inevitably we do talk about business much of the time. We’re a seven-day-a-week business – Christmas Day is the only day we don’t send out orders. The business is very important to all of us.”

How are key decisions made?

AK: “Recently we’ve attracted a million pounds worth of investment, but thankfully the investors trust us and leave us to get on with running and growing the business. As a family, we usually agree on big decisions. We’re a very formalised business; we hold monthly board meetings, daily production meetings and weekly sales meetings. Issues are discussed and we agree the best way forward. If there was a serious difference of opinion, I suppose I ultimately get the casting vote. But we all want the same things, so we tend to agree.”

What are the key advantages of running a business with family?

AK: “Trust is probably the main advantage. It’s essential in business, and we trust each other implicitly. We also share the same goals. We could sell Heck now for a lot of money, but our focus is long term, we want to create something for future generations of the family. There are so many examples of businesses that only last two generations, but we want Heck to be different.”

Are there any disadvantages?

AK: “We disagree at times, that’s normal, that’s human. Whoever you work with, you’re not going to see eye-to-eye all of the time. Our conversations are business related a lot of the time, but there again, I don’t see that as a bad thing, because we’re trying to build something that will benefit us all.

It can be tough in family businesses, because sons and daughters must often work harder to show they’re not getting an easy ride because they’re family. I like my kids to be first in and last out, and to be keener and more hardworking than everyone else. I expect the same of myself, too. I’ve worked very hard, and there have been times when I’ve not had a lot of money in my pocket, and I’ve been massively in debt. I’m not keen to go back there.”

What advice do you offer to those thinking of starting a business with their family or employing a family member?

AK: “Make sure you share objectives and work ethic. Everyone should have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and the business should be the focus, with decisions based on the good of the business. Communicate with each other, and be brutally honest, especially if people aren’t pulling their weight. Tough love is necessary sometimes, in business and in families. And make sure you have a good business idea and sound business plan, because you won’t succeed otherwise – whether you’re working with family or not.”

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