About HMG Paints
Established in 1930, Rebecca and Jonathan Falder are the 5th generation working for their family business HMG Paints. Starting with two employees and a single product (capping solution), HMG Paints is now the largest independent paint manufacturer in the UK. In 1939 the workforce of HMG went off to fight in the Second World War leaving only three people in the business - Rebecca and Jonathan’s grandfather, Brian Falder, who was taken out of school aged 14, Ronnie Harvey aged 15, and Albert Moore aged 16 - together they kept the business going making and delivering paint. After the war, the business grew into the many different market places they are in today adopting the philosophy ‘security through diversity’.
Decent, worthwhile and secure
One market that has been very successful for HMG Paints is India and it is also a good example of the values that underpin the business. For Jonathan, “it’s a classic story of if you want something, give it away first.” Jonathan’s father got a phone call from the British Coatings Federation asking for a paint formulation to help a small paint company in India. They decided to send the formula free of charge with their best wishes and didn’t expect to hear anything more. Following this generous gesture, the two companies met and realised they had much in common in the way they were doing business, and the joint venture Titan HMG was formed. The business has grown significantly over the last 11 years and is one of HMG Paints most successful international business projects.
As Jonathan is proud to point out, “we have a general family philosophy of three values: decent, worthwhile, and secure. It comes from our great grandfather’s formulation book, which we’ve still got from 1931. If you go to the second to last page, he’d written those three words, ‘decent, worthwhile, and secure’; we adopted it and made it our own. Decent means that when we go to bed after a day at work and put our head on the pillow if we think, ‘today we’ve done the right thing’, that’s the most important thing of all. If you can do that, you’re doing right. Worthwhile is we want to grow as a business but we don’t want to be big just to be big, we want to be the best paint company that is out there and as a result grow. Finally, we want to be secure so we build our business brick on brick on brick, slowly with stable foundations which means we weather economic storms.”
Joining HMG Paints
Joining HMG was always an option never an expectation. Rebecca was not sure what she wanted to do on leaving school and spent a year in South Africa. On returning to the UK, she did a variety of jobs before going to university and joined the business when she finished; she could not imagine working anywhere else. Rebecca currently works in quality assurance, dealing with customer issues and getting involved in different projects to experience every part of the business. While Rebecca has officially been working in the business for three years, unofficially she feels she has been there her whole life.
Similarly for Jonathan some of his earliest memories are going downstairs on a Saturday morning and making paint with his dad in the garage. He also remembers growing up surrounded by the passion and enthusiasm his father, grandfather and Stephen, Rebecca’s father had for the business. This rubbed off, and by 18, he knew he wanted to go into the family business and chose to read chemistry and business at Manchester which allowed him to continue to work in the HMG lab around his lectures. While there was no pressure to join the business there have also been no shortcuts. Jonathan is clear, “we have two philosophies regarding family employment in the business, you are not paid by your second name and we are very strongly a meritocracy. We say to the next gens in the business, and this has been said to both Rebecca and I, and to our fathers, ‘if you are good enough at what you do, then you can go all the way; but if you are not, you are not going to’, because there is too much at stake for just your second name to mean that you automatically get a position.”
Evolution not revolution - the role of next gens in HMG Paints
Rebecca is keen to improve HMG, make it more stable and keep the ‘decent, worthwhile, secure’ principles strong. She wants to do things better rather than differently. Both Rebecca and Jonathan speak passionately about building on what already exists, ‘evolution not revolution’. Maintaining the culture of HMG Paints is something they also both feel very strongly about. Jonathan is clear that, “we want to grow, we want to become the best paint business, but we want to do it as HMG, and we want to do it with the value set built by my great grandfather, my grandfather, and our fathers.” Whilst acknowledging that does create some pressure Rebecca is confident that, “we both know that we wouldn’t ever be put in a position just because of who we are; if we are good enough, then we will be able to do it.”
For Jonathan, each generation plays a different role. Looking back on how the business has evolved, “our great grandfather, took it from nothing to something; our grandfather took it from the something he inherits and builds it into a commercial business, much bigger in terms of staff numbers, much greater in terms of customer diversity, and product diversity. By the time my father took over, he built upon that foundation and has driven us to become the largest independent paint producer in the UK. So, now we are a successful business how do we take that to the next level? How do we push that forward and break through the next glass ceiling? That’s part of the responsibility that Rebecca, I, and our generation have.” Rebecca also recognises the importance of the next generation working alongside them at HMG Paints; helping the business get ready for a digital age, for example, the Marketing Team developing their website and harnessing social media.
A family affair
‘We are very proud to be a business family not a family business.’ Jonathan Falder.
The family meet up four times a year. This includes both those directly employed in the business and family members that are not in the business. The meetings include Rebecca and Jonathan’s grandfather who is Company Chairman, and their fathers, John who is Managing Director, and Stephen who is a Non-Executive Director. These meetings also include other family members who aren't directly involved in the day to day. The meeting covers updates on performance and issues impacting the business as it is important that the whole family knows what is happening in the business. There is a broad involvement from the older and younger generations which is important, as Jonathan adds, ‘everybody has got a piece to play in this overall puzzle’. For example, Jonathan’s sister who is HMG’s Company Secretary, and a full time barrister, who is able to poise questions from an outside perspective and brings legal expertise to the meetings.
And it’s not just the Falder family, as Rebecca points out, “so many families are in the business, we always joke when new people start the business, ‘whatever you do, just don’t say anything bad about someone’, because guaranteed that they will be related to whoever you are talking about! But it’s really nice and you really get a good atmosphere.” This is something Jonathan really values, “there are businesses that would spend their entire lifetime trying to create the atmosphere and togetherness that we have inside our company, and of course we just walk into that, and almost take it for granted.”
Speaking to people in other family businesses is also important to both Jonathan and Rebecca, “it is always good to speak to people from a multitude of different business backgrounds and find out their perspectives and their experience of different family business challenges. It doesn’t matter whether you are selling trainers, iPods or paint, the challenges that are associated in terms of succession planning, family dynamics, financial performance, and in many different areas, they are all the same.”
Looking after the family and the community
Given the close family ties it is not surprising that both Jonathan and Rebecca feel a strong sense of stewardship both for the business and its employees. “The duty side of it comes from the community of people that we have in HMG Paints. It is just short of 200 people and a family based community. Rebecca and I feel responsibility for those people, there is a continuation of the line to make sure that we look after our business family the very best we can.”
‘Looking after’ is not just pay and rations, as Rebecca points out it is also that, “they enjoy as much as they can.” Employee welfare is core to the working culture, this includes encouraging everyone to take lunch breaks, “At lunchtime, we don’t want people working on lunches. We actually want people to stop. We want them to play table tennis. We want them to go to our onsite gym. We want them to play darts up in the canteen. We want them to go to the five-a-side football pitch and have a good kick around with their friends. We’ve got three bands onsite as well for those who like singing and guitar practice.” At 5 o’clock everybody leaves, we do not want to encourage ‘competitive lateness’. HMG also encourage lots of social activities, such as a BBQ cook off, for Jonathan, “it’s at the core of what we are and what we do, and that philosophy of give and take and having fun is part of what makes us what we are.”
HMG Paints’ duty of care does not stop at the factory gates and they have a well-established Corporate Sustainability Programme dating back to the fifties when they planted trees to help make Collyhurst a greener place to live and work. Today Rebecca works with a local forest school project. Another project with local academies and secondary schools involves taking 14 and 15 year old pupils ‘back to the 1930s’. When Ronnie Harvey, Albert Moore and Brian Falder were running the business in the thirties and forties they were only young kids. HMG give an opportunity to the next generation by saying ‘right guys, they could do it, so can you’. It is a fantastic experience for everyone involved and some of those pupils are now working full time at HMG Paints. All these community projects are done “because it feels like the right thing to do, Collyhurst is our home, and we would like to make our home a nice place to be for everybody involved.”
Advice to other next gens
When asked about advice for other next gens thinking about joining the family business, Rebecca advocates talking to other people and understanding how they overcame similar issues. Jonathan also recommends being involved, even if you are not going into the business, “I think it’s important to be kept abreast of what’s going on. If you do decide to go into the business, go into the business for the right reasons, go into the business because you want to be in it, not because you feel pressured to do so. It might sound like an obvious point, but it’s an important one.” Maintaining the culture and values is also really important “people will look to you as the owning family for guidance and continuation of that business philosophy. Many aspects of our business are very different now than in the 1930s, technology is different, the machines are different, our key customers are different but the guiding principles of the business of decent, worthwhile and secure stay the same.”