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Two’s company

Whom do you trust out there? In the current climate of downturn and austere suspicion, the likelihood is fewer individuals and organisations than you did before 2007. But do you trust your family?

Whom do you trust out there? In the current climate of downturn and austere suspicion, the likelihood is fewer individuals and organisations than you did before 2007. 

The results of this week’s annual Edelman Trust barometer are not likely to be encouraging. Few are in the mood to place excess faith in business at the moment. The financial services industry, unsurprisingly, remains in the seventh circle of trust hell. Another US poll found 36% of Americans believe in UFOs, but only 22% feel they can trust their banks. (And god help those who placed their faith in Wegelin: a spell in Guantanamo may appear a soft option compared to what the Feds have in store for them.) We’ve come to a pretty pass when more US citizens expect their country to be invaded by little green men than expect to receive decent treatment by their bank.

One area where you would expect trust to remain high is among family members. Nevertheless, a new YouGov poll has revealed that 53% of the British population would not go into business with a family member, with just under two-thirds (64%) of these people saying it would be “too complicated”. Around one in eight (13%) worry that “having an argument about the business” could cause irreconcilable difficulties in their relationship. Maybe it’s not a lack of trust that would hold someone back, just a fear of excess familial emotion – harsh discussion flowing from the boardroom, via the kitchen, to the bedroom.

However, it’s clear that family ties remain strong: of the 44% who said they would start a business with a family member, a resounding 70% said they would do so because they could trust their family completely. Someone’s “other half” rather than a sibling or parent is the most popular choice of a family business partner with 29% of those who would go into business with a family member declaring they’d most like to do this with their life partner. Leeds-based solicitors firm Shulmans conducted the research, so it’s hardly surprising they are pushing the “look before you leap line”. Think what might happen if you put the family home up as surety and then either the business and/or the relationship goes bust.

There are highly successful business relationships that began as start-ups between spouses. Anya Hindmarch, last year’s Veuve Cliquot Business Woman of the Year, works with her husband, James Seymour, who is the organisation’s finance director. She met him at the age of 25, when he was a bereaved father of three young children under four and twelve years her senior.

She appears to have lost none of the enthusiasm for the business relationship and noted in a recent Daily Telegraph interview: “We lie in bed together all night, and drive to work together, and sit in the same office together all day. It's probably a relief for him that I've gone upstairs.” This refers to the move that made her the brand's chairman and creative director and brought a chief executive in from outside.

One of the most lucrative of recent husband and wife start-ups is the data analysis business Dunn Humby which was established in 1989 and provides the intelligence that turned Tesco’s Clubcard from a simple loyalty scheme to the most sophisticated tool to analyse shoppers habits and tailor offers to individuals. Tesco was so impressed with the outfit and so keen not to let it fall into the hands of a rival retailer that it bought the company from Edwina Dunn and Clive Humby – memorably described by the Sunday Times in a rare interview as “cheery and chunky” – and over the 10-year earn-out the couple have collected a cool £93 million (€114 million). And they still don’t finish each other’s sentences, either at work or at home apparently.

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