Family business reunited interviews sales director Alastair Scott
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
By Paul Andrews
Robert Scott is a fourth generation family business with a ‘spotless reputation since 1925.’ Fourth generation family member at the helm, Alastair Scott, is particularly proud of their history dating back over 90 years to when the business was founded by James Scott in a cotton mill.
“We are now one of the last working cotton mills in Lancashire and for me, there is a lot that our founder would be proud of – knowing that we are still a champion for the local economy, the community, industrial heritage and British manufacturing. However, we cannot and do not rest on our laurels and need to keep pace with innovation too,” explains Alastair.
As a business, Robert Scott is one of the UK’s largest designers, manufacturers, importers and stockists of cleaning products for the professional janitorial sector and probably best known for making mops – they make over half a million every week which is a staggering 26 million mops a year! With a huge product portfolio of over 4000 products (mops make up less than 30% of the business) the range is designed to keep pace with the very latest cleaning and hygiene innovations, regulations and rigour of the sector too.
Their wide range includes everything from microfiber cloths and medical cleaning trolleys to rapid response cleaning systems and mops, much of which is manufactured at the mill in Lancashire where they employ more than 230 staff, many of whom have been working in the business for years and are the latest generations of families that have worked in this family firm.
Family firms that survive the generations like Robert Scott not only need to remain current but to move forward with the times and that is something that Alastair is well aware of, feeling a level of responsibility for the business and those that have a stake in it.
“We need to be a business that is fit for the 21st century and can remain successful as there are lots of people involved who rely on the business too. I take the position seriously as custodian of a long-standing business in the community, a business that our team has worked to help build over the years, growing from £4.5 million turnover when I took it on to over £50 million today. I am really proud to have been part of this journey and to have had the support of a great team to work on successfully growing the business too,” explains Alastair.
Alastair was not always destined for the leadership role and took a path that many other family business leaders will associate with. His father was forced into the family firm by his grandfather and had no choice about what he was going to do but as Alastair explains, “my father was totally the opposite with the four of us and I was brought up always knowing that there were opportunities in the wider world outside of the family firm.”
Alastair seized the opportunity going to college to pursue an education in architecture, media and design but once he had completed his education found that there were few jobs available. A job came up as a sales rep and Alastair took it, seeing it as a temporary employment solution initially.
As he expands, “I had the advantage of knowing the business because I had been involved over the years, holiday jobs and the like, so I had the knowledge and accepted the role. I took the job as a ‘regular employee’ and with no moral pressure from above and the proviso that I could leave whenever I wanted should another job come up. What started out as a rather temporary role became other things and I am still here today, many years later!”
Alastair is aware of the challenges associated with family businesses, in particular, the next generation, and although two of his children are now working in the family firm, a son helping to load the lorries and a daughter in telesales, he is very real about the future.
“Who knows where they will end up,” he adds. “Both have taken on roles within the business like I did, possibly as a temporary measure, although that never turned out to be the case for me so we will just have to wait and see what the future has in store for the business, but if we have to introduce professional non-family leadership to guide the business in the future then so be it.”
“We cannot simply employ family because of their name and their heritage, we have to employ the right people in the right roles to get the job done – there is too much at stake and it is not fair on each and every employee if we take on the wrong people, and it would not be good for the business either,” he continues.
Alastair is also one of the lucky ones – he loves his job and loves to go to work each and everyday. “You spend so much time at work that it is great for me because I love it. I do feel that my role is to an extent, a custodian of the business for future generations, and there is a responsibility to the employees too. It is a great business and everyone pulls together to make it work,” he adds.
A great example of them coming together as when the mill was flooded a few years back which was a tricky time for everyone. The team came together with the directors and the staff pulling together to mop the floors, load the lorries and safeguard the business. A difficult time but the cohesiveness of the team, the loyalty of the staff and the shared values and desire to work through it really came to the fore.
As Alastair adds, “It is at times like these that you appreciate that the broader stakeholders really care and want the business to succeed and it reinforces the differentiator that we have as a family business over non-family firms.”
Alastair made a silent promise to himself when he took up the lead role, that he would retire when the business was generating £1 million turnover a week but as he is now quick to point out, “I am not going anywhere yet!”
Robert Scott is a market leader and continues to deal with day to day challenges, such as competition, rising costs, what the next generation are going to do and how the business is going to expand to the next level. They are currently involved in a rebranding exercise to help them achieve the right balance of heritage and innovation and to prepare themselves for the next 90 years and beyond.
Proud of their roots, proud to be a British manufacturer and proud to be based in a mill in Lancashire, Robert Scott is a family firm with a lot to look forward too and is clearly serious about cleaning and over the years has clearly cultivated a much deserved, ‘spotless reputation.’
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