Five lessons learned: Maitland 'Mac' Mackie

Family business Mackie's of Scotland has stayed committed to innovation throughout its journey. Maitland ‘Mac’ Mackie, tells us his five business lessons.

13th November 2018

Sit down and do business as a family

When you’re a family business, it’s good practice for the family members to sit down on a reasonably regular basis and discuss their individual roles out with the normal business environment. You want to ensure that everyone’s still happy. Whereas a non-family employee might have the opportunity to share their thoughts in an appraisal, family members often fall into their roles and, once they’re established, just carry on, even if they’re not entirely happy. You have to look at the structure of the business on a family level.

Business plans are always wrong, but…

…you need to do them. At Mackie’s, we do a five-year business plan. We know that no plan is going to unfold out exactly as planned, but it’s a solid process nonetheless. We review some of the detail annually and review our whole plan every three years in case we need to update any of our strategic thinking. It’s important to remember that not all well-run businesses make money. You need to ensure that you’re in the right business in the first instance, otherwise you can end up continually fighting fires, never able to raise your head up to see what else you could or should be doing. Our business went from farming to milk retail and eventually ice cream. The milk retail business became unprofitable for us, so we turned to something new.

Vertical integration can be the way up

As a business, we’re quite vertically integrated. We make our own electricity, our own packaging, our own ingredients, our own milk – none of these factors increase the turnover of the business per se, but they play a huge part in the business in terms of making us more efficient. Provided the business is right, vertical integration is a good way of growing your activities without increasing your reliance on external factors and suppliers.

Adapt to thrive

We’ve always wanted to keep growing our business, and whilst there is still growth potential in ice cream, we know it isn’t unlimited – and so we’ve diversified into other products that we see as a good fit with our brand, such as crisps and chocolate. As with nearly all new projects, just about everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Keep persevering and adapting what you’re trying to do; if you do, it’ll come right in the end. It probably won’t end up looking quite like what you’d envisaged in the beginning, but it will hopefully make money over time. For a lot of businesses trying to grow things that aren’t growable, it makes sense for them to think about what else they can do.

Go for a run

My last piece of advice? Play more golf or go for a run. Seriously, when running a small business you can begin to feel a bit trapped thinking that you always need to be present. There’s always something that’s not quite right – but that’s just business. By going away on a regular basis and clearing your head, I think you can make better decisions. I’ve personally found that running is a great way to think things through clearly and to come up with solutions. I’m also an advocate of simply discussing business with other people, whether that’s family or peers or anyone else. The more people with whom you discuss problems and opportunities, the more ideas and solutions you’ll come to.

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