Perspectives from ISB

Lucas’ Papaw, Bundaberg Brewed Drinks, Blackmores. If not household items, these brands are certainly easy to find in pharmacies and supermarkets across Australia. All three businesses are still family owned. Their number of employees range from 30 to more than 1000, but John McLean, chief executive of famous ginger beer brewer Bundaberg Brewed Drinks, said larger didn’t always mean more important.

“You’d be stunned at what is a family business,” Mr McLean said. “They are the engine room of our economy: they may not get the publicity constantly that the ASX-listed companies get, but family business is the bread and butter.”

Lucas’ Papaw is instantly recognisable for its red packaging. Today it’s most commonly used for chapped lips, but manager Lynette Swinglehurst said that’s not how the ointment was originally marketed.

Since its invention in the early 1900s by Ms Swinglehurst’s great-great-grandfather, Lucas’ Papaw has been used predominantly as a treatment for rashes, burns and other aches and pains. “About 15 years ago it was used – and I still remember the phone call – used by a make-up artist on McLeod’s Daughters,” she said. “She rang me and said it was good for keeping eyebrows in place and gloss on lips.” Ms Swinglehurst said she was “blown away” by the product’s cosmetic use, and how it then took off.

John McLean describes himself as the “muggle” of his family’s business, Bundaberg Brewed Drinks. Previously a teacher, Mr McLean said he had no desire to join his wife’s family business but his persuasive father-in-law, Cliff Fleming, eventually talked him around and gave him an all-round experience in the business before making him chief executive 10 years ago.

Now an international health supplement company with more than 1000 employees, Blackmores was founded in Brisbane in 1938 by Maurice Blackmore with a naturopathic health food store and health clinic.

“My father was the consummate professional, and he believed that the profession was unprofessional and needed to be professional, so he had two nursing sisters, with white hats like the old days, they were the first contact for the patients,” Marcus Blackmore said.

Mr Blackmore took the reins of his father’s business in 1975, and said his father had fought hard to make naturopathy an accepted practice in Queensland. After he started working for his father when he was about 18 years old, Mr Blackmore said he was sacked a number of times. Mr Blackmore said that experience – which left him unemployed for a while – made him a better manager in the long run.

Mr Blackmore said the company’s success had a lot to do with its people management. Ms Swinglehurst said the most important tip she could give others in a family business was to not take on too much at once. Mr McLean said Bundaberg Brewed Drink’s philosophy was to not continually redefine its business, but stay true to what it did best.

Source: Clun, Rachel, 30 Aug 2017,