Who Is William Notcutt, The New IFB East Chair
31st January 2018
We interview William Notcutt, new IFB East Chair, who shares the story of his family business, his recent business venture and why family businesses are so important.
You are a 4th generation member of Notcutts Ltd. Tell us about your family business.
I am one of six 4th generation owners of the business. In 1892 my great grandfather started with a small nursery in Ipswich and in 1897 purchased a more established nursery business in Woodbridge, which supplied the country estates and large townhouses of the day. Diversifying into landscaping, the business developed its range and scale and opened its first garden centre in 1958. This side of the business grew rapidly during the 1980’s and 90’s. Since 2007 it has divested itself of almost all the other business activities inherited or accumulated by the 3rd generation and is now almost exclusively focused on garden centre retail, operating the 4th largest chain of garden centres in the country.
You recently started your own business venture. What drove you to do so and could you tell us a bit more about what this business is all about?
After 20 years at Notcutts, I left six years ago for strategic differences and have since developed my own diversified agricultural estate business, William Notcutts Estates. It includes arable farming, renewables and forestry, commercial and residential property, and furnished holiday lets.
You have been a strong advocate of the role family businesses play in our economy and society for many years. What drives this passion?
I have long appreciated the responsibility and opportunity that family businesses represent and have been keen to learn about it and communicate on behalf of the sector. Family businesses have the potential to provide the greatest luxury of all, choice, and when carefully nurtured, they can be a powerful force for good.
What do you think makes family business different?
There is a tremendous sense of duty that a kitchen table apprenticeship cultivates, a feeling of stewardship, with often illiquid but patient capital and the willingness to do what is right by past, present and for future generations; not just of the family, but of staff, customers and all stakeholders. This goes above and beyond a mere job or a financial investment, or the short term reporting cycles which might encourage short term high risk strategies. For me, family business is all about sustained creation and preservation of wealth over generations.
Family companies are often ‘unsung heroes’ of our communities. What do you see as some of the myths that surround family firms?
The greatest myth around family business is nepotism. The responsibility of sustainably running a business for all stakeholders, for now and future generations, and adopting change to adapt to the opportunities of the economic environment means that all family members need to keep their foot to the floor; there are and there should be no easy jobs.
Why did you join the IFB and how has it helped you?
We joined the IFB because I appreciated the opportunity that a peer group of family business owners presented in enabling improved governance and succession in our business. It provided the context for our older generation to gain the reassurance they needed before we embarked on the governance review, creation of family constitution and family council. It has helped to inform our wider family as responsible shareholders as they in turn have engaged with the IFB through Family Council chair forums, NXG meetings as well as drawing on other IFB resources.
You’ve recently become the IFB East of England Chair – why did you take on this role, and what do you hope to achieve during your tenure?
I wish to encourage other family businesses to engage with each other on local level. We are in an era of great economic and political uncertainty. The cross fertilisation of ideas and sharing of stories in a non-competitive environment could be of solace and support to regional family businesses, as they adapt to the new environment. The recipients should be business owners, their next generations or non-family managers engaged within the businesses. On a regional basis we need to ensure the sector maximises the opportunity to be that “power for good”, in support of the wider IFB objectives.
What one piece of advice would you offer to a family business owner?
To communicate. Engage early with the next generation and managers, to talk and listen widely to our own and the older generation and to reaffirm values with the next generation.