Earning your place in the Family Business: 5th generation Emily Palmer shares her journey

Emily Palmer has a unique background as she is a next generation of not one, but two family businesses. “On my father’s side the family business is Palmers, a brewery and tenanted pub company in Dorset, where I’ll be 5th generation; then Jarrold & Sons is on my mother’s side, an 8th generation business that primarily focuses on retail and property”, she explains. Both businesses were founded around the same time, in 1794 and 1770 respectively, but they are different in nature. Palmers, a regional business, is owned by two family members so it has a simple shareholding structure, whereas Jarrold & Sons, a larger city-based business, is more complex in terms of ownership.

While growing up, Emily was more exposed to Palmers due to her father’s position at the head of the business. Her mother did not work at Jarrolds but her father is now a Non-Executive Director and representative of Emily’s maternal grandfather’s side of the family. This is a great example of just how important in-laws can be in driving family dynamics, sometimes creating a point of re-connection between family members and the company.

Emily plans to go into Palmers in the future. Regarding her family’s influence on that decision, she says “I think your family can influence you without you even knowing – my parents didn’t directly push me towards either business in my teens, but I’m sure they gave me direction, the small decisions do all add up. I did maths and three sciences at school, so I briefly contemplated medicine, but when you grow up in a family business you can’t help but be proud of it and have an interest in being involved in some capacity.”

In line with her words, Emily has been preparing herself to take up this role since her time at university. As a student of Biology at Bristol, she did a couple of internships in breweries / pub companies: Fullers and Timothy Taylors, both family businesses. But when the time came to start thinking about jobs after university, Emily sought advice from her family, as to how she could prepare herself in the best possible way for the future. “They suggested doing something in the financial sector so I did an internship at Rothschild before starting my final year of university and, to my amazement, Rothschild then offered me a job.”

At Rothschild, Emily has been trying to take gentle steps in the right direction to learn skills that will be useful for the family business. She spent 5 years doing M&A in the consumer, retail and leisure team, helping advise a range of different businesses. This gave her good sector insight and a strong technical foundation. She says of her previous role, “it's a great first job because you work double the hours of most of your friends so you learn an unbelievable amount in a short space of time. Having the opportunity to immerse yourself in a number of different businesses is also a fantastic experience. Having said that, I’m happy to be on slightly more normal hours now”. Last March, she moved to the Strategy and Corporate Development team which is an in-house role, focused on the Rothschild business itself. Now she helps management make strategic decisions to maximise the day-to-day running of the business in both the short and long term, “which is a closer fit with my future role at Palmers”, she highlights.

Recently, and after more than 6 years getting experience elsewhere, Emily has started talking more closely with her father about her future at Palmers. “It’s hard to talk about it before you’ve earned your stripes”. Everywhere, next generations face the challenge of earning their place in the business in the eyes of the older generation. As Emily’s path shows, it takes time, investment and commitment.

As for the role she’s planning to play, Palmers is a relatively small business in terms of people (the pubs are tenanted therefore the people running them are actually their own employees), so she would like to go in shadowing her father to learn about all the different departments. She also says, “the great thing about family brewers is that they’re a close network and really supportive of each other, so I would also love to work in at least one other family or corporate business - to immerse myself in the day-to-day, to learn and to get more experience”.

As for grand plans for the business, Emily already goes to management meetings and talks openly with her father about new ideas. However, she points out that “his approach has been to gently move things in the right direction and take calculated risks”. The business has refreshed its pub estate and changed the focus from wet-led to food-led, helping it win two Publican Awards for Best Tenanted/Leased Pub Company in the last 3 years, and started up a cider company, Dorset Orchards. Emily believes that “it’s all about taking the right amount of risk, making sure you’ve got a strong family business for the future generations, not taking unnecessary gambles or leaving yourself too exposed”.  

Jarrold & Sons is a different story: the business has been forced to innovate. Their business was largely printing and publishing back in the 18th century and is now focused on retail and property. In the department store they constantly strive to find new brands and develop unique concepts to drive footfall. The business is currently thriving and Emily says it is inspirational for the next generation to see how the business has successfully innovated.

On digital marketing, Emily acknowledges that it is crucial to raise awareness and drive sales. At Palmers, the head brewer is very skilled with social media so it has grown organically. Explaining further, she says “If these skills aren’t within the family, and you can’t develop them, then it’s about finding the right people to do it”.

In terms of the biggest lessons learnt about innovation for both her family businesses, Emily summarises them as “You can innovate and you can change the way you operate. It’s encouraging to see that taking the right risks pays off. I don’t think you should feel like your family business has to maintain the same offering for tradition’s sake. To preserve it for the next generation you need to look to drive the business in the right direction”.

However, the next generation can struggle to have its voice heard by the current one when it comes to change. In Emily’s case, she feels it is easier for her than others in her family as she is one of the oldest of the next generation. Additionally, she explains “I am the first member of my Father’s side of the family to attend University and gain experience in the City. I think these experiences outside of the business will definitely give me something different to contribute when the time comes.”

But how can you make sure that the business keeps thriving with an increasing number of voices involved? “I think having a hierarchy is important as you need a clear decision maker, which is the case in both Palmers and Jarrolds. While everyone will have their say, having an ultimate decision maker ensures continuity and that the business doesn’t end up in a stalemate situation, or chaos, if not everyone agrees.” It’s also fundamental to ensure that top management gets outside advice or the business risks a tunnelled vision, lack of new knowledge and an inward focus… To fight this risk, Emily thinks it’s important to have Non-Executive Directors on the board or to have mentors who can provide an external perspective, inspiration and advice. Professionalising the board and the business is indeed an important step for family businesses that are trying to formalise relationships and establish checks and balances.

Regarding succession, Emily is aware that there are many complications in families that are unforeseeable and therefore difficult to plan for, but “it’s important to try and be as well prepared as possible”. Emily has another three sisters that may at some point come join her at Palmers, and she’s looking forward to it: “I think supporting each other is essential and I’d love to work alongside my sisters in the family business or in the industry. I think it would be fantastic if they end up challenging me as it will mean they’ve worked hard to build up a platform to do so”.

Finally, to other next generations who are looking to get their voices heard to influence family members and / or the direction of travel of the business, here is Emily’s last piece of advice: “If you build up your CV to give you a good technical foundation and experience in the right sector, alongside soft skills such as presenting and networking (invaluable for building up a strong roster of mentors), then you have backed yourself up with the best tools possible to make your case. For women, while historically it’s often been the men who have, due to tradition, been given the leadership roles I really feel that it is gradually changing. There are now a number of inspiring women in leadership roles in family businesses across the country. Lastly, it’s important not to be afraid to volunteer your opinion - if you don’t speak up at all then you’ll never be heard.”

Contact us

Hannah Harris
UK Family Business Leader, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)7764 958585

Maria Villax
Next Gen driver, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 207 213 4868

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