How family businesses can thrive into the next generation

WRITER: Will Venn

Issue 5

Spanning over four generations, the Robern Menz family business has over 150 years of tradition. Pictured from left: Richard Sims, General Manager Operations; Grantley Sims, Chairman; and Philip Sims, Chief Executive Officer. The family are all members of UniSA's alumni.

Shruti Sardeshmukh is a member of the Centre for Human Resource Management. Her research interests include HR issues in family businesses and start-ups, entrepreneurship, and opportunity recognition.


Philip Sims

Philip Sims

CEO of fourth generation family-run business, Robern Menz (producer of the iconic Menz Fruchocs).

Discussing the importance of experience outside the family business:

"We have existed since 1908 and have remained relevant and embraced change. If we hadn’t we wouldn’t be here now.

“We have managed transition in the market place, and as market demands and consumer preferences change, we’ve been able to adapt and make products relevant for the day. It’s been important for us to embrace change and innovation.”

Sims admits that the generational transition of responsibilities for the family business has not been without challenge, but generally an acceptance of the need to change has helped ensure that business success has endured.

“I didn’t just come straight into the family business, neither did my brother. We both worked outside the business until an appropriate time, and then were able to bring in an educational and practical background.”

After graduating with a Bachelor of Business majoring in marketing at UniSA, Sims joined Schwarzkopf, progressing to the role of sales manager for New South Wales. Here he was responsible for merchandising and key account management on the grocery side of the business.

“That experience is relevant to our business today, because grocery and supermarket accounts are major accounts for our family business. It doesn’t necessarily matter what product you’re selling into those market channels, if you’re getting experience and understanding how that industry sector works, that’s what counts.”

Sims asserts that outside experience and exposure to other business practices gives you additional confidence and credibility to bring back into the family business.

“For somebody to come straight out of school and go into the family business—that doesn’t add as much value as if that person has further educational experience and practical experience within the industry.”

Craig Caldicott

Craig Caldicott

Partner at South Australian law firm, Caldicott Lawyers

Reflecting on his son’s decision to join the family firm:

“The fact that James grew up around law has very much shaped what he wanted to do; all I've suggested is that he experience other parts of law. With that in mind, he’s been to the Crown Solicitor’s Office, has worked with firms interstate, and is now visiting the Inns of Court in London. He has also taken part in advocacy competitions.

“I never had such experiences when I was creating my practice. I learnt everything from scratch and it took a long time to build my expertise in certain areas, such as trials and guilty pleas. James, on the other hand, has hit the ground running because the experiences he's had have given him the abilities to learn quickly.

“There was no advocacy course or practical aspect to law when I trained, it was all learnt on the job. Now, that has all changed. By taking advantage of these new opportunities, James is a fairly good advocate right from the start. He has the ability to appear in court years in advance of what I had.

“I think in terms of the law, you need to have a lot of experience across many areas because it helps you to decide on what area you want to partake in.

“And it’s not just solely those outside experiences which enhance James’ abilities; it’s a combination of that, plus internal experience and changes in the way law is taught.

“It’s important to pass on both good and bad experiences to the next generation so they can learn from our mistakes. Sometimes they learn, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they have to experience things by themselves. Hopefully we can pass on lessons, but it can be hard for the next generation to view the first as anything but Mum or Dad.”