To mark Scottish Family Business Week we take a look at the story behind A Hume – twice winners of the Scottish Family Business of the Year.
The Father & Son Tradition
Archie and Karen Hume have run A Hume together since Karen had the inspired idea to take her husband’s family business online back in 2007.
Archie had inherited the business from his father, Jock, who in turn inherited it from his father, Arch, who founded the business in 1929. It was, until Karen and Archie joined forces, a traditional father-to-son operation with a bit of back up from the wives and mothers (Sheila, Archie’s mother used to do the book-keeping and on occasion, cover for him on the shop floor on a Saturday morning).
Karen was the first of the Hume wives to take a strategic interest in the business. She and Archie had been married for some time and she’d pursued a successful career in Stockbroking with the family run business, Torrie & Co laterally taken over by Charles Stanley. Joining her husband at the helm was never part of the plan.
The only hint that she might have something to contribute had come early in her courtship with Archie, when Jock, Archie’s Dad, confided that he wasn’t convinced about Archie’s book-keeping skills.
Front of house Archie was a powerhouse of skill and charm, but Jock whose own ledger books were a work of art, had noticed that the joy of beautifully balanced books held little interest for his son.
Jock never mentioned the subject again and sadly passed before Karen’s involvement but it seems probable that he recognised the potential of this young Business and Finance graduate to bring more than romance into the life of his son.
A Hume & Son Plus One Wife
We’ll never really know but the memory of the conversation stayed with Karen and contributed to her perception that her input would be welcome.
Still, having said this, if Jock’s comment was a seed, it was a long time germinating. It wasn’t until Karen began to tire of the long commute from Kelso to Edinburgh that she turned her attention to her husband’s business. She says:
“I’d cut my working days down and was looking, not consciously, for something else to do. Everywhere I looked retailers seemed to be launching websites and I suggested to Archie that maybe I could cobble something together for A Hume.’
As is his nature, Archie was enthusiastic and supportive, despite Karen’s claims that:
‘I knew nothing. I had no business plan, no experience of online retail and no idea really of what a website was.”
Shared Ethos & Complimentary Skills
Ask either Karen or Archie if they debated long and hard about working together and you’ll only get laughter – possibly a ready quip.
There’s no doubt it’s been hugely successful from a business perspective – Karen powering the engines in the back office and Archie steering the ship front of house. But the thought that there might even have been a conversation to be had doesn’t have appeared to occurred to them.
And now: “There isn’t time.”
So does it work?
Well, at first glance it appears that the work life balance is tipped firmly in favour of work. They both spend an embarrassment of time at A Hume HQ but there is a clear delineation of effort and a respect for each other’s talents and contribution.
Karen jokes that there is a threshold, an actual physical line in the building that marks out their separate territories. Of course they stray a little into each other’s domain but essentially they recognise that their strength is in combined set of complementary skills and their shared ethos.
“It’s not about money. Life is comfortable and we take a big holiday once a year but neither of us drive a fancy car. We both drive bangers and we’re not materially motivated at all. We’re both big on re-investment in the business.”
So what is the driver then?
The clue perhaps lies in Karen’s credo, familiar to all A Hume staff, that she can’t go home until the inbox is empty.
It’s OK for everyone else to leave. Archie included – though it’s not unknown for him to return with a home-cooked supper and a helping hand. But Karen claims she doesn’t want a single customer to be disappointed.
It’s beyond being something she can explain. A drive that’s hard wired. More stressful to ignore than indulge. That if fulfilled, offers far greater satisfaction than a life of ease.
The stakes are high in a family business. Its never simply business. There’s the question of protecting legacy, intense loyalty and identity. All are entwined with the business and, to a large extent in a high profile business, on display for all to see. Successes – and failures – are very public.
There’s also the responsibility. As A Hume has grown so have the number of employees. Karen and Archie are clear that they’re not just working to pay their own mortgage. There are many more mouths to feed.
Scratch the surface of any successful family business and it’s likely you’ll find a combination of exactly these things; highly competitive, driven individuals; team effort and complementary skills; a desire to protect legacy and enormous personal commitment to the business and staff.
Whether your family business is IKEA – still 100% family owned – or a growing independent retailer the formula persists helping to generate over £540billion to the UK economy.
Definitely a contribution worth celebrating.
If you enjoyed this post and the sentiment rings true, or you know of anyone involved in a family business, please ‘like’ and ‘share’ using the social buttons.