With around 88% of UK businesses family owned, the sector generates more than £149 billion a year in tax; more than the entire annual NHS budget. Current thinking says that family businesses take a longer view into the future, exemplify personal values, have a more sustainable outlook and pay greater attention to their legacy.
The Institute of Family Business (IFB) describes family businesses as “The backbone of the economy, the bedrock of the community.”
South Birmingham family business, 21st Century Print, is no different. Talk to Tony Herbert, the company director, and he’s passionate about responsibility, community, honesty and corporate citizenship. Tony spent his formative years working with his father, Tony Herbert Sr., who he describes as his mentor. Listening to a bit of Tony Sr.’s story, I was impressed by how he managed to combine innovation with business sense and social conscience.
In the 1960’s when Tony Sr. was in his thirties, he invented a device that made life easier for small businesses. At the time price-marking machines used in shops cost around £60 to buy, comparable to £600 in today’s money. Slightly ironically, this price tag was out of reach for the small, independent retailer.
Tony Sr. created a handheld price-marker that was simpler to manufacture and therefore inexpensive too. It retailed at 99 shillings and sixpence, almost £5, which was similar to £50 today. Although he was working for a print labeling company, the board turned down his idea and that was all the persuasion Tony Sr. needed to go solo and set up his own business.
Further down the line, having graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in English Literature, ‘Young Tony’, as he was known, agreed to help out in the family business.
“It’s funny,” says Tony, “My father was well-known in the industry so some people still call me ‘Young Tony’ to this day. And quite often now I’m the oldest person in the room!”
Benefitting from a good education and having achieved professional successes, Tony sees it as his responsibility to do what he can to give something positive back in life. When not running 21st Century Print, he’s a staunch campaigner for people with mental health issues, better policing and the safety of vulnerable people. He even sits on an independent advice group that works with the Metropolitan Police.
Community focus isn’t something that remains external to daily operations either. Tony recognises his role as a local business, predominantly serving Worcestershire, Warwickshire and the West Midlands, is to support the local economy and play a beneficial role in the community. For example, when choosing a new supplier for 21st Century Print’s new office blinds he specifically chose a manufacturer based in Birmingham.
Hailing originally from Greater London, Tony hasn’t quite managed to swap the claret and blue of West Ham for a Villa strip. He is firmly rooted in the region now though, having lived in both Coventry and Redditch over the decades. He even met his wife whilst working as the M.D. of a print management company in Knowle. Staying true to the family ethos, Tony’s wife, Chris, is also part of the 21st Century Print team.
It is a different environment to corporate, privately owned businesses. Although they may have the capacity to shout louder about their philanthropic activities, there is a lot of corporate hand-wringing and they often don’t practice what they preach.
“Living life in a family business,” Tony says “there is an overarching necessity to put bread on the table. We survive and thrive by having a good reputation, on nurturing great relationships, having a sustainable outlook, and by taking a wider perspective.
As South Birmingham’s local, family printing company, 21st Century Print will say clearly what we can do and then do exactly what we say. That’s how our customers know they are in safe hands. It’s simple really.”