AS A JUDGE for the UK Private Business Awards sponsored by PwC, I have heard many first-hand narratives from private and family-owned businesses on their challenges, growth stories, people agenda and much more.
So what are some of the themes? Family businesses showed resilience through the downturn with many making bold decisions to continue with capital investments, whether that has been in building new factory facilities or expanding into new operations, all of which are beginning to show returns.
There has been significant innovation evidenced by the multitude of new start-ups not only in the technology space but also traditional sectors using disruptive technology.
Exports and internationalisation are on the up and I am astounded by the creative skills of our budding entrepreneurs introducing technologies you could scarcely imagine a few years ago.
At PwC in Milton Keynes and the South Midlands, our multi-disciplinary private business team works with many family-owned and private businesses, supporting them through their key challenges as they grow.
Innovation is seen as the biggest challenge for family businesses. However, this is where a family-run business really can have an edge over larger corporations, which are sometimes referred to as tankers that take an age to turn.
Lack of agility can lead to a nervousness to try new things and see how they go. Family-run businesses are close to what is happening on the ‘shop-floor’ and have an advantage over corporations where decisions are tabled at board meetings or steering groups.
Making this advantage count depends on the attitude to risk, the ability to act quickly and the focus on backing the winners.
This lends itself well to trying out new digital ideas in a controlled environment that does not harm the family business brand, then progressing with the good ideas more widely across the business.
Digital technology is more than just the online shop window – it now plays an important part in the back office, giving businesses choices on how to run their finance systems, ordering systems or customer management systems.
Technology solutions to all of these can be found online, taking away the need to buy software up front, install yourself on site and then pay someone else to maintain it.
As such, what was once only available to big business is now available to smaller businesses – hopefully levelling the playing field somewhat.
All in all, private business is a crucial sector to our economy and, despite all the success stories, needs continued investment to ensure that those that fail due to lack of investment and funding or simply due to the complexities of doing business have a chance to thrive and make their valuable contribution.
The latter is not only the job of the government through tax incentives and business support bodies but of all of us in the wider private sector whether that is by making investments, sharing networks, bank lending or simply mentoring and experiential support.
The PwC private business team in the region consists of over 300 people focused on assisting private businesses to achieve their objectives, offering corporate finance, transaction services, tax, assurance and consulting services.