Glandore: Five things I've learned from running a business with my daughters

Michael Kelly with his daughters Clare, Fiona and Rebecca 
Michael Kelly

THEY say in life you learn a lot from your parents and when I started Glandore in 2001 I had no plans for my children to be involved with the company.

Fast forward to 2019 and my three daughters are the cornerstones of the Glandore network. With offices in Belfast, Dublin and Cork, our team has grown steadily over the years with more than 3,000 desks available between our nine office locations.

Like any family business, it has been challenging to work so closely with my daughters but ultimately rewarding. It hasn’t been a smooth ride but they have taught me a lot about myself and the business along the way.

Recently, our Belfast office had the pleasure of hosting Harbinson Mulholland’s latest Family Business Event, where I discussed five key things I’ve learned from my daughters.

1 Your children should be treated as staff

It’s very easy in a family business to treat your children differently from the rest of your staff. Once your child walks through the door on their first day as an employee, you must treat them as an adult – and like any other employee. Sit down and work out the ground rules, ensure that everyone knows what’s expected of them and that everyone is treated with respect. I was four years in business before my first daughter Fiona joined in 2005. At the time, one of our Dublin offices was being fitted out. Fiona was tasked with pre-selling the space. I had to put aside the fact she was my daughter and view her as any other employee. When we opened the doors a few months later she proved herself and had nearly half the space committed.

2 Don’t be afraid to share the responsibility

In order to succeed together it’s important to have separate areas of responsibility. This way each member of the family can have a good degree of autonomy while playing to their own strengths. By the time we opened our first location in Belfast in 2007, my daughter Clare asked to join the business, and in 2011, on opening our first Dublin restaurant, my youngest daughter Rebecca came on board. We now run in three divisions, with each of us taking responsibility for certain areas: the Dublin offices, the Belfast offices and our two restaurants.

3 Leave the work chat to the office

Achieving a work life balance is difficult for many entrepreneurs, but it can be especially difficult for those in family businesses as the boundaries are blurred. You don’t just take work home with you – you take home to work with you. I try to leave business at the office and have a normal father-daughter relationship at home but you would be surprised how talks of targets and trade can slip into discussion at the dinner table!

4 You have to be a mentor, not a parent

When things go wrong or issues arise you must think like a mentor and not like a parent. As a father, the natural instinct is to try and save the day or solve the problem for them. Instead encourage them to figure it out themselves and find a solution.

5 Don’t be afraid to plan for when you step away from the business

A sad statistic is that only 30 per cent of family businesses last into a second generation. Although I didn’t initially plan for my children to join me, my three daughters are now directors and are very proud and passionate about the business. We have agreed a shareholder’s agreement which covers all the key points and makes provision for the running of the business when I have moved on. As family members, they will need to take a step back and give more ownership to management, who are non-family team members.

Working in a family business creates a culture like no other. Everyone is shown the same respect and encouraged to support each other. We try and ensure that all staff are kept informed of changes and new developments as much as possible.

That means members of the team and members of the network are treated like one of the family.

Michael Kelly is managing director at Glandore. Follow Glandore on Twitter @Glandorenetwork

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