Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family … in another city

The village of Stanford was founded in 1857 and named after a fine gentlemen called Sir Robert Stanford. Robert Stanford was born in 1805 into a humble farming family, but he went on to serve HM in Burma, receiving his knighthood in 1845. The full story of his life is a topic for another article. Blue Gum’s history dates back to the same time as the establishment of the town itself. It was originally part of the farmstead known as Kleine River Valley farm. In the 1930’s this farm was subdivided and Blue Gum became portion number 3. Blue Gum has been a small stock and vegetable farm for most of its existence, but due the nutrient poor soil the land has never really thrived.

In 1999 Blue Gum Farm was purchased by my father in law, Zane Gibson. I had already met his lovely daughter one year earlier, so our marriage in 2005 cannot be attributed to aforementioned purchase. Zane’s vision was small at first – he had the idea of starting a quaint 5 room bed and breakfast and he and his wife, Marian, would run it and make their lives out in the beautiful countryside.

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Over the years the farm has been through many changes and the vision has grown but ultimately it became a family run business again in 2011 when my wife, Tarryn, and I took over the running. Someone should have warned me about working with family…

Starting (and running) a business with family is dangerous. I am often reminded of that line from the Godfather: “It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business.” Mixing family business and business business is a huge pitfall for many. As soon as personal relationships get strained, the business is at risk. It is also impossible to get away from your co-workers. Board meetings are particularly uncomfortable when no-one in the family is talking to each other. However, if one sets boundaries early on and establishes priorities and what is really important these uncomfortable board meetings can be avoided. Unfortunately board meetings on a whole cannot be avoided. Sorry…

With these boundaries and priorities in place I am reminded daily to treat my family (and the other employees involved in my business) with respect, to value different perspectives and to handle differences of opinion with sensitivity and diplomacy. This can be extremely hard at times, especially when my wife wakes me up in the middle of the night with a brilliant business idea, or shout at me about something she forgot to shout about yesterday.

Another small downside is that you frequently get into work 2 hours earlier than usual, without overtime pay, and many months you don’t get a pay check at all. On the positive side you get to use the company bakkie – score.

On the other hand, one of the huge plus points of a family business is that one can ignore child labour laws and hire your kids. I have already put my 2 boys to work by fetching my slippers and bringing me the remote control. You can literally pay them peanuts as well, or any other type of healthy snack you choose.

Approximately 80% of all businesses in South Africa are family run, and thus employs a vast majority of the workforce. Statistically only 30% of these survive to the 2nd generation, and only 10% to the 3rd.

It is great a privilege and blessing to be part of Blue Gum and a meaningful way to preserve family unity. The farm, whilst being a peaceful and tranquil haven for all that enter her gates is also ultimately a legacy and an inheritance for our children. “It’s not personal, it’s strictly business.” The truth is it is deeply personal – and this is the magic of running a family business. We intend to be in that 10% and we hope we can share it with you.