Radiating confidence: what a business course taught our family firm
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Nick: I went to New York for the first time in 2016, with my wife for our anniversary. I kept seeing custom-made radiators, which are needed due to the use of steam heating, and they were all so ugly. I thought, hang on, we can do this better. So in 2018, we decided to make the biggest, boldest move ever since our dad Chris set up the company [Castrads] in 2005. I moved to New York to set up a branch. That is when Adam took over running the UK business.
Then the pandemic hit and my wife was pregnant. I thought we were probably going to have to close down this nascent business in New York.
I came back to the UK and we started working together like we have never done before. Dad came back; he would be in the factory fixing toilets or doing whatever was necessary — we all were. But then in May, someone turned the tap on again because everyone started doing up their homes, and in 2020 we doubled turnover in New York. We are incredibly lucky that happened.
Just before the pandemic started, we had been nominated by our bank, Barclays, to go on an executive education course it was doing with Cambridge Judge Business School. Before I moved to New York, I had found it difficult to conceive of the next steps for the business and I thought maybe business education would help me figure things out.
Adam: The focus of the course was to scale up small businesses. There were about 30 businesses in the executive education cohort, divided by region. In our region, there were signmakers, a care home, shopfitters and a software company. What is interesting is that we were quite different companies yet had similar problems.
When we started out as a small business, we could be quite flexible. Our factory workers wanted to work from 6am to 2pm as they could fit that around their home life. But as the business has grown, it has become difficult to meet customers’ needs as they do not shop from 6am to 2pm. Then we added the business in New York, which was in a different timezone.
Nick: When we did the course, we realised that the problems we had had in the past all came from a weak culture.
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 trying to design new structures to reward the whole team and get more of a team ethos. Before we did the course, we would often know when something was not working, but we did not necessarily know how to fix it.
Nick: We have started having more regular meetings to make sure everyone understands what we are working towards.
The course was all online because of the pandemic, which I think worked better in certain respects. For example, you could quickly take smaller groups into breakout “rooms” without having to physically change from a lecture theatre to a classroom.
The major difference, I think, was the end of the course. It was such an anticlimax. You’ve spent weeks with these people and then you just say “bye” and close the window.
Adam: But I am actually meeting with one of the other participants soon. They do automation, and I thought maybe they can help our finance team.
Nick: We are trying to dramatically grow our business across several countries and to vertically integrate our supply chain. To do that, Adam and I will have to take a step back from our day-to-day running of the current business in order 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. We brought several of these colleagues with us on the Judge course.
Adam: It’s not always been plain sailing. There have been times when our dad looks at the business and does not recognise it, and that has led to friction. But we are very fortunate in that he’s given us the freedom and responsibility to put our own stamp on things.
Nick: The opening in New York went well, but it was difficult, really 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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