Professional Pest Controller issue 92

30 August 2018

The value of family-run pest management companies

Buisness practice | PPC92 September 2018

Family business is the most common form of business in the UK and the pest control sector seems to be no different. We asked Professor Claire Seaman from Queen Margaret Business School to investigate the value of being a family-run pest control company.

The value of family-run pest control companies

While there is a lot of debate about definition – and indeed, there are currently more than 150 operational definitions of a family business in the academic literature – one key factor is that if a company thinks of itself as a ‘family business’ it probably is.

Whether being a family business matters is a different question. To begin to answer this, we can look to a body of research carried out amongst businesses of different sizes, operating in various sectors across countries and continents.

Developing long-term strategies for managing the family and the business together is perhaps especially important given the reasonably favourable business environment in which pest control firms currently operate.

Both BPCA’s National Survey and IBIS World have highlighted that UK councils have increasingly outsourced pest control services to business, as demand has increased and public-sector spending constraints continue. Lifestyle changes continue to encourage pests, whether it’s the increasing spread of bedbugs due to more international travel or increases in housing density that make it easier for pests to spread from one site to another. Food firms carry a legal obligation to protect public health and rightly require pest management measures to protect public health.

In a favourable business environment, medium and long-term strategic business growth are a real possibility and if this can be achieved without unhealthy levels of family disharmony, so much the better!

Family values

The family businesses often behave differently from businesses without a substantive family influence.

Where a family is central to a business, a concentration of family values within the business leadership tends to occur, and this influences business behaviour. This concentration of values can have many effects - good and ill - but it tends to make a family business a different sort of animal from the parallel models of ‘start-up’ or ‘corporation’.

Family values are often contentious, even within families themselves and cause considerable debate. The principles or standards of behaviour and the (often implicit) codes of morality and ethics within a family undoubtedly matter. Family business in the world of pest control is likely to follow this general trend, whereby family and the business environment both influence business behaviour.

Stewardship and heritage

A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers highlighted the common perception that the two defining, and distinguishing, characteristics of a family business are stewardship and heritage, often associated with a sense of duty towards the business. By managing the business assets and heritage, the reasoning runs, values that underpin business sustainability are passed down the generations with varying degrees of consistency.

The picture is complicated, however, by the choice of businesses to take part in surveys. Those businesses that manage the business and the heritage well are probably more likely to survive and hence are more likely to be in existence to take part.

Community and support

Within the context of family business support, education and community, all matter. Marrying the existing and extensive body of family business research knowledge with practical solutions to help families in business and indeed making sure that the research develops links strongly to the requirements of current and future family businesses are key.

The Queen Margaret University works with Family Business United Scotland to develop:

  • Opportunities for family-owned and managed businesses to network within local communities
  • Learning opportunities that include seminars and an annual conference
  • A profile for family-owned and managed businesses to help the sector in a wider sense.

Leading the family pest control business

What does it take to lead in a family business context? The answer, in part, depends on the nature of the family and their engagement with the ownership and management of the business.

Some aspects of leadership will be very similar – credibility, self-belief, technical knowledge and people skills – but all of these exist in both the family sphere and the business sphere. Finding a balance between the different facets of leadership is a challenge in itself. Balancing that within the family/business dimension adds a layer of complexity but often also adds a longer-term perspective to business development, which gives leaders a chance to develop their skills in the post.

Finding the knack of being a good follower as well as a good leader is a separate story and an area where further research would undoubtedly be of value!

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Professor Claire SeamanProfessor Claire Seaman
Queen Margaret Business School
September 2018 | PPC92

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