Graham Mercer of Rearo Laminates Ltd
Graham Mercer of Rearo Laminates Ltd explains what life is like at the helm of a long-established family business employing over 100 people.
What is it the company does?
Rearo designs and manufactures worktops, wall panels and flooring for commercial use as well as domestic bathrooms and kitchens. We are a Scottish family business that originated in Shetland. Our headquarters are in Glasgow, but our seven branches stretch across Scotland, England and Wales. We have a £10m turnover and almost 100 employees.
What does your role involve?
In a traditional business the managing director’s role is essentially to act as a liaison between the company and the shareholders, liaising with the board of directors on business goals and ensuring that the company performs to these expectations. As Rearo is a family business, I feel the most important part of my role is ensuring that the company’s business practices closely reflect our family’s values for the business, across all our operations and interactions with customers, suppliers and - perhaps most importantly – how we develop and support our staff.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
Rearo was set up by my father Jim, so I used to work with the business as a youngster during my school holidays. After studying business at Edinburgh Napier University, in 1992 my father asked me to come to Glasgow to help the business for a while. It was meant to be a stepping stone until I decided what I wanted to do. Then my dad announced he was moving back to his home in Shetland, and I’ve been with Rearo ever since! Back then we had just eight staff, but have grown steadily since then, adding further over-the-counter premises in Inverness, Rosyth, Ayr, Gateshead and Newport. We’ve now got 60,000 sq ft of manufacturing space in Govan and are in the middle of construction work on a new link building, which will allow us to expand our manufacturing capabilities.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Leaders need to be able to establish a clear vision of where they want their organisation to go, how they plan to get there, and how their ideal business will look, feel and operate. Once that vision is established, you need to be able to clearly communicate it to the entire team, articulate how their role fits in, and motivate them to work towards achieving that vision as a common goal that everyone buys into.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Rearo has always had a very low staff turnover – our employees stay with us for an average of eight years. Having such a loyal, committed workforce is of huge benefit to the company in so many ways. However it’s also important to be open to new ideas and willing to accept change and that can sometimes be challenging for employees who have been with us for a long time.
We try to address this challenge by ensuring we bring in fresh ideas and talent to the company through the likes of our apprenticeship scheme and through ScotGrad, which helps us recruit recent university graduates. We currently have one such talented graduate in our marketing department.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I am lucky in that I don’t often get stressed. I grew up in the Shetland Islands where life is naturally more laid-back and slow paced. I think the island lifestyle tends to make people more patient. I have been in my role for over 25 years, and experience tends to take the stress out of situations. You definitely don’t get so anxious when things go wrong, and you learn to put things in perspective.
Away from work I have helped coach an under-12 football team for the past five years. I find that very enjoyable but often much more challenging than my day job!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I never really knew exactly what I wanted to do. I have worked in the family business from my early teens, and before that, I helped out on my cousin’s farm, so I suppose there was always a natural tendency for me to stay in the family business. I did know, however, that I wanted to make things. I take great satisfaction from the fact that Rearo is a manufacturer, and I am saddened by how the manufacturing skill base and identity is being lost in Scotland and the wider UK.
I do feel that society places too much pressure on young people to decide their future careers at too early an age, when they haven’t really experienced anything. I also feel that if someone does not enjoy their work, they should try and change direction. Your work is such a huge part of your overall life. If you don’t enjoy your it, you are not enjoying your life - so change it!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I dislike finger-pointers and people who do not take accountability for their own situation or actions, both in the workplace and wider society. I encourage my team to always try and present potential solutions rather than just talking about problems. I would always urge them to say “this isn’t working very well, we should maybe try doing A, B or C instead. What do you think?” rather than just go along pointing out all the problems. Anybody can do that.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We are only a few months into our latest three-year business plan, so I have a clear vision of where we will be. We will manufacture more products at our Glasgow HQ, we will have additional sites across the UK, and I would like to develop our exporting capabilities.
I would also like Rearo to be recognised a as a leader in manufacturing, and in bringing new products to market that incorporate the very latest designs for both the domestic and commercial interior markets.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Your business will probably always be a reflection of yourself, your values and personality. If you want your business to change, you need to be prepared to change yourself. That can often be difficult to recognise and sometimes difficult to accept. But it’s well worth it.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
To network more outside your own industry. I spent many years almost exclusively talking to people within my own area of business. If you do this, you can develop a blinkered vision of how your industry should develop. By looking at what the wider business community is doing, or aspiring to do, you gain a far wider perspective of what is actually possible.
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