You can choose your friends and, to an extent, your colleagues; but you can’t choose your family.
This well-known truism is the most famous shorthand for family woes and fallings out - occasionally with good reason.
But family businesses are different; as anyone who knows will confirm. That isn’t to say that they’re all the same - far from it; or that they all run smoothly - far from it. But there are points of real difference from other business models and there are specific reasons for this.
Wates was founded in 1897, by Edward and Arthur Wates. From that moment to the present, Wates has been wholly owned by the Wates family. That’s 100 plus years of continuity and stability and we believe that it shows. I would say that.
But the real test is how that ownership and the values that spring from it presents in the market, to our staff, to our customers, to our clients; to the people who live in homes we’ve created, work in offices that we’ve developed and learn in schools that we’ve built.
“Our decisions are taken by people who have their own flesh and blood around the board table”
As a family, we don’t presume to be able to answer that question on behalf of those valued groups but we do know how we hope they’d answer: with a sense that their homes and schools and places of work feel as if they were built for them, developed with them in mind, delivered with a touch that seems almost personal.
Of course, every construction company wants to instil its work with core values and rightly so. Pride runs high in our sector in all that we do. Wates doesn’t seek to set its family model above any other business model, but it is different.
Our decisions are taken by people who not only have their own money in the business, but also have their own flesh and blood around the board table. As owners of the business, the history of those who preceded us and the expectations of those who will succeed us are powerful and positive forces.
We make our business decisions on the same footing and in the same frame of mind that we make family decisions- because at a values level, they are one and the same. Those decisions are about the long-term, about asset development in all forms - people, capital value, client relationships - and about legacy.
In the past decade we have seen the enormous value of recruiting and encouraging professional management from outside the family. Paul Drechsler used his decade to combine the roles of chairman and chief executive to great professionalising effect.
Andrew Davies, who joined us in January from BAE Systems brings his own world-class perspective to Wates as chief executive; as the owning family, we’re already working closely with him: enduring values and best practice professional operations harnessed for the good of staff, clients and the communities in which we work.
“You might not be able to choose your family, but you can choose your values”
Andrew and his executive team know that their decisions are underpinned by the stability and continuity that have anchored the business for longer than a century. In turn, the family knows that Andrew’s relentless professional focus is the best enabler of those values in the market. One without the other is diminished; together we believe that it’s a potent combination: from investment decisions to pastoral support.
We are huge admirers of our rivals and our peers in the sector. We have ultra-competitive relationships on any number of fronts; but we believe that our model gives us an edge. However, nothing’s for nothing and that’s why, at Wates, we know that families have to be worked at too.
You might not be able to choose your family, but you can choose your values and at Wates they underpin the business which, in turn, stands or falls by the way we behave and the choices that we make.
James Wates is the chairman of Wates