Living the Values: Sustainability and Resilience - the Wates Group’s Way
6th December 2016
Family Businesses: Natural Champions of Sustainability
Family businesses are well-known for their long-term outlook. In family business, owners often see themselves as stewards, wanting to pass on to future generations a more successful business than they inherited.
As the firm is handed down through generations, so is an embedded set of family values or core principles. Such values are reflected in the way the business operates and impacts on people, the communities it works in,the environment and future generations. This is what being a sustainable business is all about. With the huge pressures on our planet from population growth and climate change, this has never been more important, and is now an imperative.
Wates Group: Reshaping Tomorrow
Family firm Wates Group is a prime example of how long-held, lived and consistent values have come to shape the way the business operates through the generations and how it looks at the future.
Since it first started committing to sustainability by funding the construction of the first zero carbon house in 1974, the family business has been working to ensure its impact on current and future stakeholders is a positive one.
As the family values were passed on through generations, the Wates family has continued to find ways of expanding and formalising their approach to sustainability. First by developing ‘Reshaping Tomorrow’, an evolving framework defining its impact on communities and the environment now in its third 5 year plan, and then by partnering with other family businesses internationally to develop a structured approach and champion family business sustainability.
Direct Benefit of Family Business Values in Practice
Wates Group is part of a group of firms committed to reshaping the future. This not only means being a responsible business, but also working to promote the business case for sustainability. At the group’s core is the belief that businesses can be a force for good, which in turn is good for the business.
As part of the International Advisory Committee along with other members of Family Business Network (FBN), Wates Group has helped develop a programme to deliver a shared Pledge, created in Singapore in 2011.
The Pledge commits family businesses to fulfilling their responsibilities to the people who work with them, the communities in which they work, the global environment and to their successor owners.
The programme devised has been branded ‘Polaris’, the North Star, to indicate the long term nature of this commitment.
Taking its name from the North Star, this approach aims at helping family firms, regardless of sector and size, in living their values. It helps them in identifying their true purpose and their idea of what they want their business of tomorrow to look like. Polaris is the approach through which family businesses can effectively commit to people, communities, the environment and future generations in a structured way. As importantly, it measures your progress along the journey and benchmarks your company against its peers.
“If you have got your core values right, and you apply them to your business, you are driven down the Polaris route” says Andrew Wates, former Chairman of the Group.
But as the Wates’ case shows, taking a proactive stance ultimately is about business success too.
The Business Case
“There really is an absolute business case for working with Polaris, along its concept” continues Andrew. “We are a construction and property services company. A lot of our clients have, over the last ten years, become very demanding in terms of the way in which we impact on the communities where we work and in the environment that we leave behind. So what we found is that it gives us a differentiator. Now everyone is catching up on these issues, and this is why we have been working on our 2030 strategy, looking at what is beyond the immediate future and finding practical solutions. The key is to be outward looking.”
Today, Wates is one of the most trusted construction and maintenance companies in the UK, having won the Investors in People Gold Award and having just been granted its second Queen’s Award for Enterprise and Sustainable Development, the first Construction Company to achieve this. This comes from living the values, which act as guiding principles for the family and the entire business.
From Philosophy to Action: How to Get the Family Business on Board
In the case of Wates Group, the catalyst for this started with the family, but is now owned and driven by the business.
“You need to have a family business champion, or champions, have discussions and ensure the family is on the same side. Then you have conversations between the family and the business, but eventually the business must pick it up and run with it. It has got to be embedded in the business” says Andrew.
The Key Role of the Next Generation
Being part of a sustainable business has proven to have great appeal among younger family members. Owning a business that walks the talk can therefore contribute to increased next generations engagement.
Furthermore, according to a recent report by the IFB Research Foundation, giving the next generation spaces to share their ideas can also contribute to greater engagement and innovation within the family business. Involving the next generation in discussions around what a sustainable future for the business looks like can therefore be a great way to engage them, and to contribute to the firm’s long-term success.
Join us on 25th January 2017
Join us in London on 25th January for the rare opportunity to hear Andrew and Jonny Wates as they share the family firm’s ongoing journey towards sustainability.
This is a unique chance to discover how Wates Group have brought the family values to life and how their commitment to sustainability has benefitted the business, the people working in it, the communities in which it operates and the environment, across generations. You will have the chance to find out more about the Polaris Pledge and tools, and how this commitment has helped Wates Group in structuring the firm’s vision and journey in a comprehensive way.
“Whilst at Wates Group we firmly believe in the value of being sustainable and have seen from experience the benefits it brings, we are ourselves on a journey. This is why I am very much looking forward to learning with and from other family businesses, and to start developing together a collective way of thinking about family business sustainability” says Andrew.
Polaris is not only about living the values in your family business, it is a network of like-minded peers who, working together and sharing experiences, help and support each other throughout their journey towards becoming sustainable and champion the role of family businesses as a force for good. Don’t miss this opportunity, find out more about this event here.
This interactive discussion is aimed at any family business that wants to effectively frame a sustainable vision and build resilience, regardless of size, sector or stage of the journey it is currently at.
If you would like to assess where your business currently stands on sustainability prior to attending the event, you can take the Polaris Impact Assessment available here. This tool, tailored to the type and size of your business, will guide you through a series of business practices aimed at creating a positive social and environmental impact.
To learn more about Polaris, how it can help your family business and how you can get involved, contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 the global group of 3,000 family businesses of which IFB is the UK Chapter