Business Advice

How to make sure your family business survives for the next generation

- August 19, 2022 6 MIN READ

As a young Dutch backpacker bartending in 1970s Sydney, a chance opportunity with a local furniture store set Richard Kuipers on an incredible path towards multi-generational business success – but the journey hasn’t been without its ups and downs. He joined editors Cec Busby and Adam Bub on the First Act podcast to share the most significant lessons he’s learned about building a family business that stands the test of time.

Chances are if you’ve moved house, Richard Kuipers’ team at Two Men and a Truck have helped you do it.

The business began 40 years ago, with a single truck and a backyard caravan for an office. Since then, it has grown into one of the nation’s largest removal companies, employing over 300 people and boasting a fleet of 90 vehicles and nearly $20 million in annual turnover.

“I didn’t know anything about removals at all; it happened by coincidence,” the 75-year-old business veteran recalls. “The day after arriving in Australia, I got a job at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go club in Kings Cross as a waiter, barman and jack of all trades. So, I bought a beaten-up little truck and started doing a few deliveries for the furniture shop owner up the road. He would say, ‘Richard, I need one man and a truck’ for any small thing. And if it were a big load, he would say, ‘I need two men and a truck’.

“We slowly got busy, and then I got another truck on the go. We built up to more trucks, and we just kept on going.”

Richard Kuipers at desk

Richard Kuipers, founder of Two Men and a Truck

In sharing this massive success with his family, Richard discovered that building a solid family business isn’t for the faint-hearted or unprepared.

Here are the biggest lessons he’s learned in his journey from carefree backpacker to national household name.

Providing for future generations

With a large percentage of Australian small businesses categorised as ‘family-owned’, Richard says not enough is being done to safeguard those businesses for the next generation.

“68 per cent of companies in Australia are family-owned and family-managed, but only a few have a family structure and charter in place,” Richard laments. “I’ve been in family business management for a long time, and I don’t believe people know the complexity of running a family business. If you don’t do it properly now, then, later on, it’ll end up in court, and everybody will be fighting about the business.

“We have to talk about the family, the business, and the ownership of the business. But, we also have to consider the in-laws and, of course, the most important person of all – my wife. If something happens to me, how will my wife be provided for?

“There’s a lot of things that must be sorted out – it’s about safeguarding the whole business. It also gives my children a plan for the future of how we can operate harmoniously as a family together. And that benefits everybody.”

Listen to Richard Kuipers on the First Act podcast:

Handing over the keys to the family business

After decades in business, Richard inevitably stepped back from day-to-day operations and handed over the reins to the current CEO, his daughter Catherine. While the move has been ultimately successful, Richard reveals that it was not without its pitfalls, urging all entrepreneurs considering an inter-generational handover to seek professional guidance from an independent mediator.

“You can’t do these things without a mediator,” he warns. “It is extremely challenging and complex. Working with family is one of the hardest things you can do because you’re all different; you can’t choose your family members. You need an independent mediator who’s experienced in family business management and can direct the family on how to do it.

“We had a lot of arguments and family disagreements before we joined an organisation called Family Business Australia, which gave me an idea on how we should structure the company. We started having meetings and got a mediator. We had to come together, talk to each other and have a plan for the future of Two Men and a Truck.

“We went step by step, starting with talking about what we want to do with the business. Did they want us to sell it or close it down, or did they want to take over the business? This started giving clarity to the children on the future of the company. Every meeting, everything was written down, and it became our family charter.”

Social responsibility for a better tomorrow

Richard says one more essential key to building a business that stands the test of time – is social responsibility. For him, this means leaving the world in a better place for everyone – family, the community and employees.

To this end, Two Men and a Truck have launched their corporate social responsibility program, aptly named Moving Together, supporting many local charities and initiatives.

“We help charities out with delivering furniture and sponsor the refuge centre with delivery once a week – we provide a truck, and we do our best. So, for example, when the floods were on, we helped flood victims; we sponsored kids’ soccer teams and school events. We also onboard at the Anne Frank travelling exhibition – being Dutch, Anne Frank is important to us, and we do part of the transport to take it from one place to the other.”

And while Richard may be getting on in years, he still walks the talk, having participated in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout charity event six times.

“It’s a rough charity to be part of, spending the night on the streets,” Richard says. “It does impact you that in a country like Australia that’s so wealthy, people have to sleep outside on the street, especially women with babies and children. It’s just amazing that this can happen in Sydney; it significantly impacts me.

“I think if you have a family company, our duty is to leave the planet in a better state for the next generation, and we can do this with social responsibility,” Richard says. “Social responsibility encourages people to realise we are more than just a removal company.”

Family culture

Richard says that social responsibility doesn’t just extend to local charities; it must start from within.

“We’ve got an excellent family culture at work; everybody is like a family member. We always look after the family; some of our employees have been there for 20 years.

“We see an awful lot in our business; we see a lot of domestic violence and divorces, and we move many people to nursing homes or retirement villages. Often it is very sad, so it’s difficult [for our workers] sometimes. We have a counselling service available if somebody feels they need it.”

Book cover: , Inside The Box: Building a Family Business - Nothing But the Truth by Richard Kuipers

To help guide other families to build a solid inter-generational foundation for their businesses, Richard has chronicled his experiences in his book, Inside The Box: Building a Family Business – Nothing But the Truth. Grab your copy here.

Richard Kuipers on the First Act podcast

He was also generous enough to drop a many pearls of wisdom for other family businesses in this fascinating First Act ep – catch the full podcast now!

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