Perspectives Scotland UK

Taking Packing Into The Next Generation

Chris Kelly is the Managing Director of The UPAC Group in Scotland.  He spoke to Paul Andrews to share his insight into this second generation family business.

What does your family business do?
We are the fastest growing packaging supplier in Scotland. As a collective, The UPAC Group offers the best solution for any packaging needs, with access to specialist machinery in the manufacture of corrugated boxes, solid board cartons, lithographic laminate boxes, polythene products, labels and a distribution arm to ensure unrivalled packaging services.

In addition, we have a full in-house design team, specialising in the design of bespoke boxes and packaging. Our innovative ‘U-Chill Box’ has become a staple for food retailers and restaurants alike, as their businesses move online and over to a home delivery service as a result of the pandemic.

When was it founded?
1970

How did you get involved?
I was on gardening leave having accepted a new job in Dubai and had a 3 month window. Dad asked for help restructuring the business and the job started to grow arms and legs. I had no intention to stay but it was such a pleasure working with dad and shaping a company, as opposed to working for someone else that, to be honest, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to work for Dad. Honest truth was, as a child, I had really bad bronchitis and was constantly at the doctors. I have fond memories of my dad taking me into the office in the mornings before my doctors appointments and I loved it. Dad seemed have a great life, he worked with his cousin Gerry and watching the two best friends working together always seemed like such great fun.

What is your role in the business today?
I take on all roles as the Managing Director. I sit in the middle of the open office, overseeing every aspect of the business, without micromanaging. I want to have enough of an understanding that I can offer advice and instruction without having to carry out tasks. It’s more of a guidance role.

What are your first memories of the family business?
Walking into the warehouse and thinking it was the greatest place in the world… 5000 sq ft, pallets everywhere, the greatest den any kid could ever have! Forklifts were buzzing about, everyone was really busy and there was my Dad, bossing everyone about in the worlds greatest den.

What values are important in your family/family business?
I have a responsibility to everyone that works for me, peoples livelihoods are reliant on me doing the right thing- so I have little tolerance for anyone that doesn’t respect the job because the job looks after everyone.

What is the best thing about being a family business?
I guess it’s the sense of family it creates. Look. You laugh, cry, but more than anything else, I know there are people in the organisation that support and understand the pressures and needs of the business. There is implicit trust. Not always agreeing, but trust on certain aspects.

At UPAC, we treat everyone like family, that doesn’t just extend to direct family, but that’s what underpins this business… everyone should feel part of the greater family. My staff would walk into battle for me. The sense of community that a family business creates- familiarity breeds contentment and a closeness, and can dissolve some of the office politics that may be problematic in a more structured business. I guess I am fortunate that I’ve primarily worked in environments where collaboration was key- no idea bad.

And the worst?
You feel additional pressure to look after everyone. My problems are not my problems, I feel responsible for other people that goes way beyond a working obligation.

What is the best thing about your working day?
I really love whizzing about the office on my new electric scooter and having a laugh with my team.

What is your proudest family business achievement?
When the other family members came onboard. Employing my two sisters. Bottom line is I don’t require a lot, the money in this business is used to help other people and assist my own family members achieve. I’m not reckless with money but at the same time when running this family business I’m not answering to external shareholders- we are not a lifestyle business. We don’t issue dividends, money goes back into business.

Is there a next generation waiting in the wings to take over?
That’s dependant on the next generation. I have no ambition to hand the company over but at the same time, I don’t preclude the possibility. I always wanted to run the business and work for Dad, if other family members want to come in, the door is wide open but there’s no pressure to join.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing family businesses?
Family politics.

What words do you associate with family businesses?
Loyalty, sacrifice, reward and transparency.

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