If I got a Euro for every time someone said to me ‘I couldn’t work with family, we’d kill each other’, I’d be a very rich woman! But unfortunately, I don’t but I thought I would give an insight into what makes my experience of a family business so precious….and exciting!
Officially I have been working with Willie Duggan’s for 11 years. Unofficially, I have been involved in Willie Duggan’s for 36. Growing up in a family business is something special. It takes a certain amount of patience, a lot of honesty and a huge amount of hard work.
Our kitchen table was the board room, I knew everything that was happening in the world, in the business, and anything that could affect it as we were growing up. Gulf war, 1990, ‘no one will have access to oil’, how will it disturb transport? Will we be able to import? I was 7 years of age having these conversations and I loved every minute. I was actually having adult conversations, well so I thought anyway. Answering our house phone was a stuff of legend, ‘Dad, are you here or not?!’ was always the first question when the phone rang in the house from Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm. Well in those days, people could ring at any time of the day or night.
At 12, I was working in our shop in Kilkenny city, stock taking bulbs, cleaning shelves, organising shades, dealing with customers. At 17, I was driving to site, dropping off goods, collecting money, wiring fittings with John, who is still bossing me around today, and checking out the hot guys onsite! Our warehouse was the hay barn in the back yard. 7 days per week, we would have artic trucks dropping or collecting goods. At 20, I was standing in a field on the outskirts of Kilkenny, with Dad asking me what I thought of his vision for a big showroom and contract office. It is no longer a field!
There was one thing that my parents were adamant about, once we left school, it was out into the world and find our own feet. A Science degree (don’t ask me why?!), 2 years working in Dublin and 2 travelling, then I was back knocking on my parent’s door, looking for them to take me back.
I came back to Willie Duggan’s in 2008. It was a crazy time as things were just starting to slow. I started off my time working in accounts. Dad wanted me to know all aspects of how the business functioned, starting in the one place that I least wanted! I spent a year there, and really saw how the company worked, from its stock system to sales, to accounts payable. And to be honest, it was very frustrating, I didn’t know from one day to the next what our Sales people were doing. Dad and mam were highly successful in the business but the transparency I could not see. I had many conversations with them to try understand how best to do this. But before we could implement any changes, the downturn hit hard, we couldn’t sustain the staff numbers. I will never forget the day that redundancy was offered to staff. Dad’s office had a glass front, and my desk was just outside his office. I felt for him and everyone who went in to meet him that day. It is such a tough time as you work day in, day out with these people. It is heart-breaking.
In 2010, Willie Jnr came back which was a blessing as we were then 5 Duggan’s in a family of 5 working in our company. My sister Helena, was 2 days per week doing our Graphics. But nothing in a family business is 2 days really!
Since then, we have been through so many ups and downs both in the company and our family. Changes in the business, big project wins, cancer, stroke, and death.
We lost Dad in August of 2017, that day we were due to host a CPD in our offices! I will never forget.
I feel so privileged to have spent so many amazing, tough, exciting days with him in Willie Duggan’s, a company his father built for him and he grew for us. Who can say they got to spend 10 years of their work life learning from their father? He was such a visionary, a real thinker. I once met a man who asked me who had started our company, when I told him that we were the third generation, he said ‘it is the generation that makes or breaks a business’. Well if there is one thing I learned from Dad, and that is the art of hard work, and innovation…..so watch this space!