Every story has a narrative, a history and a journey and The Cleenol Group is no exception. Celebrating 75 years as a family business but with an entrepreneurial journey that dates back to the 1700’s this is an authentic story of drive, determination and plenty of ups and downs too. Paul Andrews spoke to the fourth generation Managing Director, Sam Greaves to find out more.
Sam, like generations before him is entrepreneurial in nature with a desire for continuing development of the business and the team that runs it with a view to passing the business on to the next generation in due course.
As he explains, “the business evolved and adapted over time from a timber merchant in the 1700’s to involvement with constructing canals, transportation of goods on the canals, to fuel for the vessels and then on to working with Shell to eventually manufacturing the first washing up liquid for them and then branching out on their own manufacturing journey that started 75 years ago.”
Today, Cleenol is recognised as one of the UK’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of quality cleaning and hygiene products. They are known for their top-quality hand sanitisers, British Nova floor care range, Evolution super-concentrate cleaning products and their own brand/private Label offering. They manufacture, warehouse and distribute high-quality products through an efficient and personal service. With a key focus on improved product performance, increased safety and environmental credentials and enhanced customer benefits.
For Sam, like many next generation members, his route into the family business was not a straightforward one and there were certainly some challenges along the way. Sam had grown up knowing about the family business which was run by his father and his grandfather. Sam comes from a large family. He himself is one four siblings, his mother is one of five, his father was one of four and his grandfather was one of five as well. As Sam adds, “This is important because our family and the business became intrinsically linked with many of the family relying on the business for income and over time this became a key issue that would need to be resolved.”
After completing his degree Sam started working in sports marketing for the England and Wales Cricket Board, a role that he thoroughly enjoyed before being asked by his grandfather to join the business. The decision was made for him, but he was still asked to attend a meeting with the board, despite everyone knowing that he had accepted the position and was starting with the business. “It was a lightly surreal experience and I was given quite a grilling by the board despite the fact that they knew I was already joining the business,” continues Sam, “but I joined and started working with my father and grandfather. It was by no means easy and the working environment was not one that I enjoyed and after a year I quit and decided to do my own thing. I moved to Dubai and set up my own business.”
“Work was going well until I received a call to inform me that I was needed back in the business as my grandfather was unwell and my father’s health was deteriorating, and issues had been identified that needed to be sorted. I gave it a lot of thought and before accepting a role made it clear that I would only return if I owned a majority of the voting shares in order to mitigate any disruptions with other members of the family when key decisions had to be taken and implemented. My request did not sit well with all of the family. This came to a head with challenges from family members threatening to go to court if the deal was agreed with a challenge to be made on the ability and capacity of my grandfather to make such a decision,” continues Sam.
Sam thought long and hard about his future and the role within the family business and after plenty of deliberations and agreement to the majority shareholding, returned to work in the family firm. Sam soon realized that the challenge was bigger than he thought and he began to question whether he had made the right decision. “Each day we uncovered more challenges that had to be addressed which were all the result of the imbalance on family and their impact on the business,” continues Sam. “The lack of investment in the business and our people over a long period of time had created an unhealthy environment, a culture where bullying was evident, and people had created their own empires within the business. Staff were looking out for themselves and there was no clear direction. We went into survival mode. I found coping mechanisms and internalized a lot of things, but we got through the difficult days although not without having to make some tough decisions along the way, some of which we are still dealing with today.”
In hindsight, the early days were when Sam started to put his stamp on the business, engineering a way forward that empowered the management team, supported the staff and started to create the culture that is palpable within the company today. “I wanted to work in a business that does the right thing and supports our employees. Without a business there is no family business and to me, with 100 staff working for us and responsibility for their families, it is important that we care, not as a token gesture but within the way we do what we do and how we do it. Our values shape the way we operate as a business too.”
Sam is passionate about mental health and wellbeing, community and giving back and has driven change, creating a different culture within the business based on values and purpose. “We have worked hard to give employees a good place to work that is safe and offers a good career path too,” explains Sam “where we put the business needs first. A good example of this is one of the maintenance engineering team wanted to take a few days holiday to take get his driving license and test but the business wanted to support him and rather than using up holiday we saw the benefit in him passing as it would remove the need for someone else to drive him between the sites so it was a good investment and helps the business too. We support our staff to be the best they can and support them as they develop too,” adds Sam.
As an entrepreneurial family owned business Sam has a good team around him. Soon to be the father of 4 himself, he recognizes the need to balance family and business, personally and professionally. “Boundaries are important and getting the balance right is important. We are exploring the opportunity of a four-day working week to give our staff more time to spend with their families and have been monitoring the impact of this with other firms. I am a keen advocate of ways of working that work for the business and the individual and it is important that they are embraced from the top down too,” explains Sam.
Like many other family firms, giving back to the community and supporting the local area is important to Sam and the business. “We like to get involved and support the community and for our 75th anniversary have plans to undertake 75 events to raise £75,000 for charity to mark the occasion. This will not only help us to forge relationships within the business but also demonstrate the support of where we live and work too, making a real difference in the process. Family and community are integral to who we are as a business and help define our purpose as a result.”
Sam has been on quite the next generation journey but it is by far from over. He is a life-long learner, constantly keeping up to date with trends, ideas and innovations, exploring how they can be embraced and incorporated into the Cleenol way of working to make a difference. Sam wants to make a positive impact on the business and the way it engages the people within it, the industry and the broader community. The change over the years that he has been involved has obviously made a big impact on the culture at Cleenol and his journey is one that he is willing to share to help others learn from his experiences.
A great advocate of family, Sam has one eye on the future too. With young children of his own he is clear that he wants to build a better, sustainable business for generations to come and who knows, when the time is right, one of the next generation will step up to take the business on the next stage in its journey. They are too young at present and Sam still has a lot that he wants to continue to do to pass on the business in a better position to the one that he took on all those years ago.
One thing is for sure, Sam and the team have turned the business around, are focused on the future and Sam no longer has days when he questions why he got involved with a business that had so many challenges. The culture has changed under his direction and the future is bright.
It is true to say that they are achieving their aims, to create a family business that is contributing to a cleaner, safer, kinder world for generations to come.