Scots baking business reveals how it rises to the challenge

SCOTLAND’S top entrepreneurs have paid tribute to one of Scotland’s most successful family businesses.

McGhee’s bakers started out from their first bake house in Maryhill in Glasgow, in 1936 and have gone on to become a national institution. Speaking on the Go Radio Business Show with Hunter & Haughey, production director Ian McGhee revealed his company’s recipe for success to Sir Tom Hunter and Lord Willie Haughey.

“Myself and my fellow directors, Gordon and Stuart, all started off getting to know the business from the bottom up – from scraping pans to jamming biscuits to driving vans and everything else in between.

“On a Saturday my cousin Stuart and I used to help my grandmother count the vending machine money and we got paid two and a half pence for that!”

Sir Tom asked Ian: “We’re keen to give Scottish companies a way to celebrate success, commiserate on the failures, and help people grow their businesses. Now you’ve been doing this for a long time in a family business set-up, so how do you keep your ideas fresh?”

“Having the business handed down through the generations, you’re handcuffed to it,” said Ian, “and you don’t have that entrepreneurial spirit that Willie and yourself have. Each decision is big and emotive and you have to consider the legacy you want to leave to the next generation.

“But in saying that we have made a lot of big changes that have served us right and made one or two that served us wrong. Like all businesses, you live and learn,

“We have differences of opinion, of course. We probably have three to four board meetings a day but generally we’re following the same path and, after all this time together, we’re thinking the same way and moving in the same direction.”

Sir Tom asked: “ I’m always keen to find out the key to the family business. Can you have robust debates then get on with it. Or is there one of you who brings ideas from outside the family, or how does it all work?”

“Ideas come from everywhere and anyone and disagreements come from everyone as well,” Ian admitted. “It’s not the first time Gordon and Stuart have been deleted from my favourites on my phone . . . but they’re quickly reinstated. We do get on very well. An argument happens every so often and is probably the best thing that happens to a business. It keeps it strong.”

According to Ian, another bonus for the baking business is having a workforce with very long-serving employees.

“This is testimony to how well we treat our people. Just in the past couple of weeks we’ve had two guys retiring and they take away almost a hundred years of service between them.

“We are there all the time. Each one of the staff knows me by my name. They can approach me at any time. It’s the same with Gordon and Stuart.

“The culture we have in our business is really trying to get people trained to better themselves. Brexit and Covid placed a massive strain on the workforce, however all our staff have worked tremendously hard throughout this tough period. As a result of that, we thought we’d bring forward the annual pay reward from April to November and they got a 6.6% increase.

“We provide training and reward better performance. That’s the culture we bring into the bakery.

“For a family businesses, one of the best pieces of advice I was ever given is you can’t steer the ship from the boiler room.

“That’s an old business adage and it is absolutely true, because you get sucked in all the time and so you do have to step back and get up to the top deck and watch out where you are going because sometimes it can be a treacherous path.”

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