A family affair: Harvey Water Softeners

A family affair: Harvey Water Softeners

The final in a series of features looking at what makes family businesses work and what challenges they bring catches up with Casey and Harvey Bowden of Woking's Harvey Water Softeners.

Where are you both from, how old are you and what backgrounds do you have in business?

Harvey: I am originally from Cornwall but am now living in Surrey. My background was plumbing and that’s how I originally got into selling water softeners. From there I invented the compact, twin-cylinder, non-electric water softener and Harvey Water Softeners was born.

Casey added: I joined the family business in 1999 and became a director in 2010. I’ve undertaken two qualifications at Cranfield Business School, most recently last year, both of which have played big parts in the company’s recent growth.


What roles do you both have at the company?

Harvey is now a non-executive chairman and Casey is an executive chairman.


How has the company grown since its launch?

The company has grown rapidly since its launch and now employs 195 members of staff and boasts an annual turnover of over £20m.


What benefits does being a family run business bring?

Apart from the pride of building something that does some good for the people who work with us, there’s undoubtedly a level of empowered agency from running a family business that you simply can’t get anywhere else. Doing it as a family just means that you get to share it between you.


What challenges has operating as a father and son duo brought?

Anyone running business with two generations of family (or more) involved will recognise that desire to ‘do the family proud’. However this can easily turn into a reluctance to change. No business can afford to stand still, though, and it usually takes something big like a new generation taking over for big changes to happen.


How did you overcome these?

Going through Cranfield’s professional management courses was a big factor. It made us braver and gave us the space we needed to work on the business, rather than just in it. It helped us to see where investment and improvements were most needed, and how we could make them happen. It took us a while, but it helped us think objectively about what was needed rather than emotionally.


Lastly, if you could give three tips to another parent and child duo looking to setup in business, what would they be?

Go for it, absolutely, but be honest with one another, have clearly defined job roles and areas within the business and seek out the best people from the wider world too who can bring the perspective and fresh thinking that is always needed.