Business Finance: Family firms are shaping up for the challenge, says Julie Steel of KPMG

KPMG’s recent Succeeding in a Changing World report surveyed 700 family businesses in 31 countries, over 130 of them in the UK.

In a time of downbeat economic predictions, our findings revealed some hope in that family businesses in the UK had growth firmly on their agenda. According to research from the Institute for Family Business, the 3million family businesses in the UK account for 66% of our small and medium sized enterprise population, provide 9.2million jobs, and in 2010, while we were still in recession, made a �346billion value-added contribution to UK GDP.

It is a vital sector for the UK’s route back to economic growth, and more than a third of family businesses that we surveyed expressed a desire to look for growth via transactions.

This focus on growth via transactions was evident in our role in finding a buyer for retailer Peacocks, where our corporate finance team reported notable interest from family businesses looking to be involved in the negotiations. Peacocks eventually sold to Edinburgh Woollen Mill, a company owned 100% by the Day family. Through the transaction they increased their headcount by nearly 6,000 and added more than 330 stores to their 500 UK store portfolio. It was a major transaction for a company which opened its first shop just 40 years ago.

A similar number of respondents expressed an interest in the benefits of exploring a move to the emerging economies.

For many family businesses, maintaining the value of the business for future generations is paramount and amid slow growth in Europe it makes sense that they are looking for opportunities in the double digit growth economies in the East and Africa.

Our research also suggested that we are starting to see the growing professionalisation of the family business sector, with more than 75% of respondents looking to bring non family executives and non executive directors into their businesses in order to keep competitive.

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Involving external non-family members can be used to bring in new and different skills and experiences to a family business. Where there are different shareholders, such as local business Start-rite which has 55 family shareholders in the UK and globally as far as Australia, South Africa and the United States, the introduction of corporate governance disciplines can be a commercial advantage. For the UK economy to begin to grow, the story has to be one of private sector-led growth, and family businesses will be key to this. Looking at the results of our survey however, they are more than up for the challenge.