Lancashire kilns firm gets pots of advice from university scheme to aid family businesses

A Fylde coast kilns business has become one of the first in the county to use a new scheme specifically designed to help family firms grow.

By Tim Gavell
Monday, 8th February 2021, 3:45 pm

Lancaster University Management School’s Professor Steve Kempster has designed Evolve Digital, an online programme that supports SME family business owners to successfully adopt new technologies.

Fully-funded places are available to small, family-run Lancashire SMEs with the next set of sessions due to start on February 10 and April 27.

Jen Cross is operations manager at Pilling-based Northern Kilns and been one of the first business leaders to join the LUMS Evolve Digital programme.

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Jen Cross and the team from Northern Kilns of Pilling

She runs the business, which makes pottery kilns for commercial and private use, alongside her brother, Adam, and father, Adrian.

Jen said: “Like so many businesses, we had to stop production during the first lockdown.

“However, since we reopened, we have been blown away by the increased demand for home kilns as more people discover the satisfaction and mental health benefits of throwing and firing their own pottery.

“However, to fully take advantage the uplift in orders we have to digitise wherever we can.

Professor Steve Kempster

Glitches and hold-ups that are manageable now could cause major headaches when we’re operating at a larger scale. I joined Evolve Digital to help me work out which digital tools will unlock the potential in our business and which might be expensive and time-consuming mistakes.

“However, rather than telling me what technology to choose, the sessions have gone a lot deeper, encouraging me to get under the skin of our family leadership style and business strategy.

“Dad and Adam have been very supportive of me taking the time out for the programme.

Steve Kempster, LUMS professor of leadership, learning and development, says that although the pandemic has emphasised the importance of digital, business leaders need to put the right foundations in place if any digital transformation is to be successful.

He said: "The pandemic has made it clear that if we don’t shape the digitalisation of our businesses, it will shape us. But when SME owners or directors are concerned about their future, it’s essential not to make a knee-jerk decision about a new digital ‘solution’.

“Instead, business leaders have to first understand themselves and their leadership styles: technology is the enabler but the drive for successful change comes from strong and clear leadership.

“Leaders need to bring their teams around to the change: presenting a clear and compelling narrative about why and how the new technology will help to increase productivity and future-proof the business.

“Particularly in family-run businesses change can bring emotional as well as practical challenges. It means grappling with issues like ‘who has the power to make the final decision?’ and ‘is it riskier to make a change or stick with the status quo?’. There is a great deal of pressure on leaders: no one wants to be the last generation of a family business.”

LUMS has been selected by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Innovate UK to deliver the programme, which is part of a national research study. The outcomes will inform UK government policy on the needs of small, family businesses.

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