When Fraser Haran was abruptly handed the CEO role of his family's multi-million pound Westcrowns Group, it began a leadership journey that is far from over.
"It's always been a journey. I qualified as a chartered quantity surveyor, worked in London, and came into the family firm in 1989. We have interests in glass, glazing and flooring services, and construction and transportation markets within the UK and abroad.
I went through what would now be seen as old-school development. My path was set out: I was in charge of 300 people, but what the hell did I do?
We approached Scottish Enterprise and said I was in massive need of training and development. So, I started a two-year MSc in corporate leadership, including 10 days at Emory University Goizueta Business School, Atlanta. There, we visited large firms like Coca-Cola, UPS and CNN. This was the first step of my leadership journey.
The difference between leadership and management
"In the early days, I started a new division, consolidated our smaller businesses. I think I was perhaps a good manager - I got things done. Maybe I stepped on a few toes, I was competitive and wanted to achieve in quick timescales.
The MSc helped me realise leadership was more about having shared goals, ensuring your people want to achieve the same thing. Rather than simply telling them what to do.
Certain characteristics made that easier: honesty, a degree of inspiration and giving people something to aspire to. You must have credibility and trust. I had to build trust and show people I could lead a company of this size.
This was a fourth-generation family firm. My father and those before him had inspired through hard work and experience. But leadership was about how they wanted things done.
I wanted to do more and there was a lot to build on - a friendly, family culture and a paternal attitude to do the right thing for your workforce.
Leading change, but thinking long term
"In 2003-4, we looked at the business and what it stood for. It was difficult for some of the older directors - they said we are here to make money. But it was much more than that. The firm had always taken the long-term view and looked after its people. Not just our people, but suppliers too. We have worked with Pilkington Glass since we started in 1873 and banked with the Clydesdale for over a century.
So we set about defining our core values, looking towards our 150th anniversary in 2023. We knew instinctively what those values were, but had never written them down. It was all about integrity, family culture and continual improvement.
Those core values have been our foundation since 2004-5. All decisions are based on them. When we are faced with a dilemma or a business problem, we go back to those core values.
This was a new vocabulary for people - vision, values, purpose. My credibility was on the line - the firm had never done this before. Some guys just didn't get it. They are no longer with the firm.
A common theme throughout our vision and values is about people. I am very clear loyalty and commitment is crucial to growing the business. We offer staff the opportunity to realise their ambitions with us at all levels. About 18 people have been through our one-year Emerging Executive programme.
Some have really developed, others found it wasn’t for them. It's good for us and for them to understand that. There is also a lot of formal NVQ and HNC training from the shop floor upwards.
Many employees have been with us their entire working life, so we want to show them life outside the business. Scottish Enterprise has been really helpful. As their staff come to know our business, they suggest various ideas for training and development and point us in the right direction.
"Our people know that if they want to, they can develop their capabilities with Westcrowns. I think we have done well to identify those who want to progress within the business. Like the four directors on our internally-developed ‘Next Generation Leadership’ programme, supported by Scottish Enterprise, who could potentially step up to board level. These opportunities give our people confidence about leadership and what it means.
We also take people to international conferences. Eight went to the World Business Forum in New York and were exposed to world-class leadership thinking they had never come across before. It’s expensive, but we see the benefits in better decision-making all through the business – rather than passing everything to a senior director. There is a better understanding of risk and benefit.
More than a hammer in the toolbox
"Skills are like your personal leadership toolbox. I only used to have a hammer, but I've added a lot more tools over the years. I've learned how to coach, to deal with conflict and to develop greater empathy and emotional intelligence.
"One of my weaknesses is that I am perhaps too keen to promote harmony and avoid conflict. However, when it is time to be tough, I get over myself and make the tough decisions.
In general, I think the harmonious approach works, but you have to be careful. I always want to be able to challenge people and for them to be able to challenge me. Also, having a very experienced Board of Directors and my sister Lindsay as Group Finance Director certainly keeps me on my toes!
"We strive to be the best family business in Scotland, capable of becoming a £100 million turnover business, with £10 million profits.
The capacity in the business is around £60 million, so we need something else to hit that 2023 target.
Personally, I want to show my tenure has been a successful time in the company's history, creating new products and going into new markets
I want to take the legacy beyond 2023 and secure the business for the next generation."
Grow your business via leadership