The small business owner’s story – Halls Food Group

Joe Hall has been involved in his family’s bakery business since 1990. The original company was founded in 1933 by Joe’s grandfather and went into liquidation in 2006, however, Joe bought the company back and reorganised the infrastructure which had been predominantly staffed by family members. He identified this as the primary reason for business failure and reorganised the staffing and management structure drawing on outside expertise to take on co-directing and management roles.

Joe became involved with Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) in 2009 when he joined the LEAD programme citing this as a “transformational” moment in his business career. The course offered him a new way of exploring his approach to business and provided a rich network of SMEs which formed a number of action research groups. Joe’s group work helped him to work through difficult issues from within his business. This provided him with the opportunity to share his business problems with his cohort in a supportive but challenging way. He believes that the four years of solid growth are as a direct result of the impact the LEAD programme and then consequently the GOLD Board have had on his business strategy and personal approach to his business relationships. Joe credits the two programmes with equipping him to survive the recession which began in 2008 and has only seen a real improvement over the last seven months with an eighteen per cent increase in sales. One of the key things for Joe in engaging with the university is that, instead of acting in isolation he has been able to take a broader view based on insight from research led seminars and interaction with his business colleagues in LUMS.

“It has been critical to our survival as well as our success”.

There have been a number of opportunities for Joe to remain engaged with the LUMS community including becoming part of the Entrepreneurs in Residence team in the Department of Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Innovation and most recently signing up for the MBA programme in LUMS. Joe has relished the opportunity to explore the theory that underpins his business strategy and believes that the operations assignment he completed recently is responsible for a seventy percent change in the way they manage operations in the bakery:

“I see the MBA as a toolkit which gives me the ability to evaluate the problem in a different way”

He believes that many more SMEs would value the opportunity to engage in the academic community and that the University needs to do more to develop this side of business engagement.

“If SMEs are already engaging with the university and giving their time for free then why wouldn’t they want to engage more? It is a way of the university giving something back”

Joe considers his experience with the management school as something that he would like to develop further. He enjoys the ability to share his business knowledge with the students in his capacity as an Entrepreneur in Residence. The MBA has been a life changing opportunity for him, impacting on both his business and individually by providing him with an ability to evaluate his business in a different way believing that “Life is being translated back onto the page” for him.

Read about other examples of  how business schools deliver value to local and regional economies through close work with SMEs in our report.