Baby steps to big success

Baby steps to big success

Dani Saveker remembers ‘playing business’ and visiting her family’s firm as a child. This led to her tenure as guardian of the family empire, and drove her creation of an organisation dedicated to supporting family businesses. Here she shares the lessons she’s learned along the way

I always wanted to run my own business.

Why, I have no idea, but it’s one of my earliest, clearest memories.

I played business rather than with dolls, and as a painfully shy five year old remember my delight when given an adding machine. While reasonably good at all subjects at school, I wasn’t amazing at anything apart from working hard, something I applied to my escapes – ice skating and ballet.

Although reserved, I was driven and ambitious, and outspoken about things I was passionate about. Alongside ice skating, a feature of my childhood was growing up in a family that ran a business. Despite my love of business, I was never destined to join the firm – it was my mother’s family’s business, a traditional metalwork manufacturer founded by my great grandfather in 1903. The signs were clear; its name was T Saveker and Sons Ltd.

I vividly remember visiting the business to see my great uncle, grandfather and uncle; well, my mother would see them while I disappeared into the factory, which was far more exciting.

Several years later and a Product Design and Marketing graduate, I set about finding a job. This was tougher than expected and my third cousin, now managing director of the family business, offered me a temporary project, which six months on, turned into a
full-time role.

In 1997, I was given the chance to run the shop floor. I seized this opportunity and developed my understanding of the business and manufacturing, learning to weld, electroplate, anodise, fabricate, operate a CNC and water-jet, and polish metal.
This was a fantastic time, but it became clear this historic business had little in the way of efficient manufacturing, sales or business development techniques. I wanted a change for the better and so, with a plan to improve production, which the board approved, I became production director.

A month on I recall a series of heated meetings between my uncle, his adopted son and the managing director. These ended abruptly, then, as the most junior member of the family and board, I was called to the office. The managing director said he no longer wished to continue leading the family business and it was to be sold. My response was swift. I told him I thought it was the right thing for him, adding: “I’ll buy it.” I was given a week. I presented my case and plan, including restructuring the board and with it redundancy for my uncle and his son. The shareholders agreed and unanimously voted me managing director.

But before the management buy-out was completed, the business suffered a major fire caused by a faulty thermostat in the plating line. Production was wiped out. The new management team rallied, and the first orders were dispatched 48 hours later, despite the building being without a roof.

The MBO was completed around the company’s 100th birthday and optimism was high. But in late 2008, the recession took hold and combined with the 40-year legacy of restricted growth, outdated structures and spiralling costs, the business was struggling.

On 10 March 2009 I delivered a speech to the workforce I grew up with that will stay with me forever: “On behalf of my great grandfather and whole family past and present, it’s with regret that despite every possible effort, I am having to close the doors for the final time.”

The company was put into voluntary administration. I turned off the life support and allowed it to fade with dignity. The experience left me with a clear personal purpose – to make sure others in family businesses wouldn’t feel isolated as I did at such a difficult time, but instead, have a team that understands the professional and personal challenges. At Savekers, I realised, I had actually been the guardian of my great grandfather’s dream;

I wanted to use this legacy to realise my own dream.

I launched Families in Business in 2012; it provides family and owner-managed businesses with the necessary understanding and support with their everyday challenges, so they can build resilience, focus, value and fulfilment.

I often look back on my journey from childhood ice dancer to business leader, and see parallels with these lessons in business:

1. Purpose: Be motivated and know your personal purpose.
2. Love: Love what you do; don’t do it because of someone else.
3. Preparation: Preparation and training are vital and this never stops.
4. Dare to fall: It’s how you learn; it can hurt but you have valuable lessons this way.
5. Set the trends: ‘First ice of the day is best’: lead the way, be the first to step out.
6. Fully commit: You can’t half-heartedly do something and expect the results you want.
7. Be mindful: ‘Suddenly’ usually takes years.
8. Off ice: The most valuable practice can be ‘off ice’ observing; use the best coaches, facilitators and model the masters.
9. Systems: Have great systems and processes to help you along the way.
10. You get out what you put in: whether it’s a triple axel or team work. n

For more information, visit: www.fibcommunity.com, follow @fibcommunity on Twitter, or contact Dani Saveker, Tel: 07812 99 27 26, Email: dani@fibcommunity.com.