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The family business that relishes a challenge

The family behind Hawkshead relish

Second generation sales and marketing manager Izzy Whitehead explains why and how a Be the Business Next Gen workshop helped.

Hawkshead Relish, an award-winning Cumbrian food producer, was founded in 1999 by Izzy’s parents Mark and Maria. Starting small, it now produces 5,000 hand-filled jars of relishes, ketchups and jams a day and is stocked in 500 UK retail outlets and 12 countries around the world.

The business may have grown big, but the team has remained small – with 28 employees and a strong family element. Izzy is responsible for sales and marketing while her sister looks after the running of its Lake District shop.

Too many cooks…

According to Izzy, both her parents are passionate about cooking and flavours, with her Dad poring over cookbooks of an evening and her mother often producing new ideas. However, the family have defined their roles. Dad is in the kitchen as flavour champion and mum is responsible for business finance and operations.

Accidental journey

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school, so I did music for two years and then health and social care for a year – just to try something different. Then the lady who had my job now, the marketing and sales role, was leaving. I came in to do it for the summer, as I’d always worked in the business on holidays and weekends”.

The rest, as they say, was history and Izzy is now into her fifth year of working for the business full time.

A learning journey

Izzy joined the family business full time in 2015

Izzy came to the role without formal qualifications but has learnt the business inside-out, taking herself through design and other training programmes when she needed them. Attending a Be the Business Next Gen workshop sparked her interest to invest more in training. “Something that came from the event was that I want to further my education and have now enrolled myself on a management programme. I also want to try and learn a bit more about the numbers side of things.

“I’m forcing myself to ask more questions and I do feel like I’m more curious about it now. I want to know what’s going on and how it all works.”

Thinking ahead

A common challenge for family businesses is succession. It can be a difficult subject, and one that tends to be avoided, but it’s important to have plans in place and everyone’s perspectives and personal goals acknowledged. As Izzy reflected: “It’s something that, with being part of Be the Business, we started thinking about.

“I thought it was easier not to think about it but, having spoken about it, realised it wasn’t as bad as imagined. I’ve been learning about what things the business owns, like properties and vehicles, and if there is a plan for my mum and dad to step down.”

For Izzy, work-life balance and happiness is important, as well as ensuring you enjoy what you do without being overworked and stressed. This will only happen if you can build a team you trust and who share in the company values.

Confidence, experience and knowledge sharing 

Izzy’s Be the Business Next Gen event experience helped her confidence, especially after hearing about how similar the experiences of other business leaders was. It was “reassuring” to hear how other businesses had faced similar issues but were now doing well. Be the Business also helped her define who in the business shapes and influences things – an important exercise if she was ever to move into leadership.

When we asked what would build her confidence further, she flagged better business knowledge and the gaining of more experience.

In the meantime, Hawkshead Relish is cooking up a storm. A committed team passionate about products have combined with a strong leadership team who instil family values throughout the business to result in a profitable business with increased capacity and demand for white label products from retailers.

Izzy’s experience of attending our workshop and hearing from leaders outside of the business has given her plenty of food for thought.

Interested in attending our free Next Gen workshop for family businesses? Book your place or find out more here

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