The Scottish Leather Group is the largest manufacturer of leather in the United Kingdom. In 1965 the Muirhead and Lang family leather businesses, each with their own unique history and individual markets, combined and today they share the same purpose - to be the most successful and respected group of leather manufacturing companies in the world. James Lang, Director of Scottish Leather Group, shares his thoughts on how the families shared values have helped them on their growth journey.
"I think the passion that surrounds the family or family-owned business, helps employees relate to the business"
People are at the heart of Scottish Leather Group, James tells us, and so their values, ‘revolve around people and integrity. The business over the generations has looked after the people, who have worked for it. We have many generations of families of employees, who are extremely loyal to the business and to the family. Our integrity is shown in the way we run the business, our business practices, and our ethics.’
Scottish Leather group has grown significantly in recent times, as James explains, ‘my father would have known every employee personally, but that was at the time when the group employed maybe 200 or 300 people. With the best part of 1,000 people, it’s a bit more difficult to get to know everyone. The way we enshrine our values in the business is to practice them, leading by example. From the board down, the mission and value statements are well publicised and it’s the management team’s responsibility to make sure that those values are practiced. We review our values on an annual basis, to ensure that they are relevant, and also that every aspect of those values is being practised.’
Well-being is a good example, James continues, ‘we have well-being supervisors, which is a relatively new thing for us. We realised some of our people needed additional support and we now have people around the business who, as part of their role, understand what is going on with the people working in their immediate area. It’s about being aware of what’s going on around you and finding different ways to effectively practice those values. I believe it’s an ongoing challenge.’
James talks enthusiastically about their SLG Academy, launched in April 2012, The Academy covers learning and development from apprentice level to senior management. It brings rewards, as James points out, ‘we will soon have some of the best trained people across the whole business. They are the first employees, who’ve worked, in every job, in every company.’ Certainly there is a lot to be excited about, ‘there is a new generation coming through that are well versed in the business and we are now using them. While they are still relatively junior levels, they can tell us things about our business that we don’t know and we want to involve them. Also when we want to innovate, they contribute, and that’s important too. They are our best ambassadors. I used to go all over the country and talk to people about our academy. Now we just send one or two of the apprentices, because they can speak more genuinely and eloquently about their experience than I can.’
"We have found that the better skilled and more involved employees are, the better the result, whether that’s in product quality or financial, and a lot of effort goes into that now."
James strongly believes, ‘there is an advantage in a family business being able to take a longer term approach, and it offers greater security.’ He cites the example of someone who told him that they wanted the family involved explaining, ‘if the family are actually working in the business, you won’t sell it, which means my career prospects won’t change.’ An example of how Scottish Leather Group relate to their people is at Christmas time, where all the employees visit their headquarters for lunch. As James explains, ‘when we first moved in here, a rumour went around that there was a swimming pool and a jacuzzi. So, we thought, let’s bring them across here, and they can see there is no swimming pool and stuff. That’s been helpful, because you can imagine with the head office, it’s often out of bounds to most employees, whereas all of them have been through here at some point, it’s important to show that our values are relevant.’
Scottish Leather Group may have had their values for several generations but how they apply them is very much about today and looking ahead to tomorrow. Their commitment to integrity and their people is central to their vision to be the most successful and respected group of leather manufacturing companies in the world.