Family Business Networks in Scotland

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Scotland is a comparatively small country, with a population of around 5.4 million (National Records Office) and a landmass of around 80k km². Family business is a fairly young field of academic research but one where the economic importance to Scotland appears both obvious and obscure. Family businesses make up between 65-80% of businesses worldwide (depending on definition and location) and are particularly important in rural areas. Despite this, they do not get featured heavily in official business statistics. In Scotland (and indeed the UK), business statistics tend to be collated based on a business type, size or sector of operation. Ownership type, including a family dimension, is important because research indicates that family businesses behave differently from their corporate cousins. Raising awareness of family business amongst policymakers and finding routes to support family business was identified as a key area for development in collaborative research between Family Business United Scotland and Queen Margaret University and enacted via a network of family businesses. The network contributes to mutual awareness of and education for family businesses and in addition provides rigorous information for policyholders.

Families run some of the best-established businesses in Scotland. In 2018, research by Fire Brigade Union (FBU) Scotland with partners that include Queen Margaret Business School indicated that the Top 100 family businesses in Scotland alone contributed around £1 billion in profits before tax, gave around £16.6 billion in turnover and represented around 11% onshore GDP, employing 103k people. The ecosystem of the individual family influences, for better or worse, the environment, in which the business developed, and hence influences the part that business might play in engagement with the wider world. Family business therefore offers an alternative lens to consider the social organization of businesses, offering universities an alternative approach in the development of their engagement networks. To facilitate interaction and cooperation with family businesses in Scotland, Queen Margaret Business School has developed a strategic link with a UK based organization called Family Business United. Family Busines United began in England and during its expansion to Scotland developed strategic partnerships with educators. In developing an inclusive family business community for Scotland, FBU Scotland built a platform for the provision of education, events and communication as well as offered a university the opportunity to engage with the family business community on a longer-term basis.

A recent examples of this work is the Scottish Family Business Road Trip, where a sponsored car visits businesses across Scotland facilitating events for locals throughout the journey. The individual businesses have an opportunity to tell parts of their business and family story. The stories and pictures contribute to profile via social media and keep the network alive in the minds of participants whether they can be physically present on the Road Trip or not. Further, in a country with many rural areas, the Road Trip dissipates the sense of isolation and makes it easier for relatively remote regions to join in. Given the relatively greater importance of family business in remote and rural areas, this is a crucial facet of the network. By joining the networks that exist independently from individual projects, a ‘habit of engagement’ builds with long-term benefits for university-business engagement and on-going benefits for businesses.

Interested to learn more? Contact Prof Claire Seaman at cseaman@qmu.ac.uk or via social media (LinkedIn – Prof Claire Seaman; Twitter @ClaireSeaman)

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