Maria and Mark Whitehead are family business owners through and through. From their humble beginnings in Hawkshead in 1999, they have steadily grown their business to what it is today…
Exporting to 12 countries around the globe, retailing to over 500 specialist outlets across the UK, making products for a number of leading food businesses and chefs, employing 28 staff (including the next generation of business leaders, their daughters).
Family is at the core of all that they do but that doesn’t mean to say that they look inward… Over the years they have worked towards a more collaborative approach to business. An approach that is much more than just working together… it’s a strategic choice too.
Collaboration has far reaching benefits for companies, producing organisations that are filled with employees who are self-aware, aligned, role focused, able to stimulate fresh thinking and encourage innovation, and because of all of this they are able to lift their businesses to new heights.
Building networks for family businesses is vitally important, especially when those enterprises are located in rural areas. Rurality can pose a number of challenges, inhibited access to markets, poor infrastructure, poor access to learning and development opportunities, and small and aging population bases from which to employ staff from. However, if businesses embrace the opportunities presented to them through being part of a wider business network such as the Family Business Network then these need not hinder growth and business development.
Maria Whitehead co-owner and director of Hawkshead Relish commented: ‘’The role The Family Business Network plays in sharing knowledge through networks, access to learning and mentoring opportunities, peer to peer collaborations and long-term business growth and development is vital; especially in rural areas across the North West. Being part of this network prevents isolation, helps share knowledge and best practice and helps shape businesses for the future as well as building strong associations and friendships along the way. I would urge every family business no matter how big or how small to get involved in The Family Business Network and see the benefits of growing together.’’
Maria has long recognised the wider benefit of building networks and in 2015 became involved with the Family Business Network in Cumbria, specifically looking at succession planning with a view to equipping daughter Izzy with the skills required to take over aspects of the existing business.
Invaluable sign posting from The Family Business Network, led by Sue Howorth and Dave Clarkson, provided Izzy with support and access to a variety of learning networks, which over time has allowed her to acquire the skills and training needed to take responsibility for elements of the business.
Despite being in a rural location, a huge array of collaborative opportunities with all manner of businesses up and down the country have presented themselves over the years. Many of which have come as a result of being involved with family business orientated networks, especially the blossoming of a firm friendship.
Mark Whitehead and Nigel Barden both grew up in Bury in the North West, their fathers were business associates and friends for years, however, despite this their respective sons were passing acquaintances.
That all changed some 8-10 years ago, when the pair started to encounter each other again… bumping into each other at trade shows, social events, whilst working collaboratively with other businesses and as ambassadors for the North West and its food and drinks businesses on the national stage.
With so much in common it was inevitable Mark and Nigel would quickly become close friends, indeed the friendship blossomed to such an extent over the years that Nigel was kind enough to write the forward to Mark and Maria’s first ever cookbook, Embellish With Relish, which was released in September.
As you might imagine their connections continue to grow, Mark as an artisan food producer and Nigel as a food broadcaster, presenter and judge. It goes without saying that both have a deep-seated love of the North West and they both recognise the importance of family businesses in bringing the largely rural communities of the North West together. Which is why when Hawkshead Relish were asked to support the first ever North West Family Business Awards they readily agreed.
Keen to assist in boosting the profile of the new awards Mark and Maria then asked Nigel Barden if he would consider joining them to help showcase the best of the region’s family businesses…
Broadcaster, presenter and food award judge Nigel Barden said: ‘’Growing up on a farm in the North West and working as a tree-surgeon and wine merchant in the region I recognise how vitally important networks in all their forms are. Indeed, none more so than The Family Business Network, as all too often it is easy to become embroiled in the day to day and lose sight of the bigger picture and become increasingly isolated. Which is why it’s important to take a step back, take stock and collaborate, learn, share, listen and develop alongside your peers. People, who like you are in family businesses and have either been in the same boat or who are going through the same thing. Which is why I’m delighted to support the inaugural North West Family Business Awards and encourage family businesses across the region, especially those in our rural areas, to get involved.’’