Small Business: All in the family

By Gill South

The Whaley family  (L to R) Mary Whaley, Ruby Hines, Lizzi Hines, Libby Whaley. Photo / Supplied
The Whaley family (L to R) Mary Whaley, Ruby Hines, Lizzi Hines, Libby Whaley. Photo / Supplied

Mary Whaley leads a multi-company family business with the support of her husband Ken, daughter Lizzi Hines, son Will Whaley and son-in-law Tony Hines.

Daughter-in-law Libby Whaley, meanwhile, owns Servilles Ponsonby. Mary and Ken and Lizzi and Tony live across the road from each other in Franklin Road, while Will and Libby live in College Hill. They even go on holiday together sharing a love of skiing.

Mary ran her own suburban general practice law firm, Whaley & Garnett, from 1982, at the same premises as her husband's accountancy firm in Ellerslie. Until last year, the entrepreneur was a long term board member of the Auckland City Mission.

The businesses

In 2005, we decided that we wanted to do something together as a family. At that point Lizzi was 28 and Will, 23. I'd gathered some ideas for companies through my law practice. We formed a metals coating business, Metalier Coatings.

We imported an American product but it was awful. We hired a superb chemist, Barry Whalley, and have now created our own metal coating product. We can supply a coating for any surface, and we can make it look like brass or copper or a number of other things. In the last 18 months or so we have exported our product overseas.

Through our American distributor we have got involved in new nanotechnology coatings, one is graffiti protective, there are huge opportunities for it. We have created a new company for this business, Halo Surfaces, taking on a couple of partners. Our son Will, a geologist and Lizzi's husband Tony are both involved with Metalier and Halo. Lizzi has a finger in every pie and has her own business, Spaceworks.

The latest business venture is an extension of Halo Surfaces. We were able to offer help and support to our American parent company Coval Molecular Coatings recently and we have ended up with 15 per cent of the American company. My legal background and training have been useful in drawing up contracts with international distributors. We have been given part of an incredible opportunity. We will rebrand Halo as Coval so the Group has an international unity.

We are also developing a marine product in partnership with our Metalier chemist Barry Whalley and we anticipate that that is going to be worth between $30 million and $50 million a year in sales. That's about six months away. This will be a different partnership but will still be under the Metalier name. It will be an international business with just a handful of big customers. It's a very exciting opportunity.


A family affair

We have a family meeting every week which is like a board meeting. We discuss general things. Ken and I, Lizzi and Tony and Will attend. Libby always has an open invitation.

Ken, my husband sold his accounting business, and other than seeing some older clients, he's very much involved in running our businesses. He oversees the operations, the accounting, stock control, all the things I hate.

I love having a family business, it's something we can do together. We have very complementary skills. What's terribly important are the relationships within the family and the support we give each other. Creating businesses you are taking risks. Things are good now but in 2008 when the recession hit, we all rallied together.

We also have very significant relationships outside the family, people like Barry Whalley and our marketing adviser, Brandon Wilcox from Evolve Marketing. It's important to all become part of the team.

We try not to discuss business on Christmas day and family dinners but we do tend to quite a lot. So much is happening, it is more like we are catching people up on what's going on and everybody's interested. We don't see our businesses as work.

The plan is that Lizzi and Will will take over the businesses when Ken and I decide we want to go and travel the world. We are very very pleased that they will want to.

Lizzi and I are "joined at the hip". We have a family joke that we know what the other one is thinking. I rely very much on her input, she has got good views and she is commercially very savvy. Lizzi has always been able to stand up for herself, she is her own person.

Lizzi Hines, Spaceworks

I have my business Spaceworks, a fast growing office interiors company, whose corporate clients include Canon, Lego, Whitcoulls, House of Travel and Universal Pictures. We use some of the Metalier and Coval products in our business. We are about to take the business to Sydney and then Melbourne. We will have to have offices there which I will start up and then get someone on board there. I like to have my finger in every pie, I'm constantly being educated in every area.

I also have another side project, another start up business due to launch in the next few months. I have only ever had one job working for somebody else, otherwise I have always worked for myself.

What's so good about the family is that we are each other's rock. One of the things I have learned is we have an incredible work ethic. Also we are very passionate about the work. If you are doing something for so many hours, that's something that we do as well, with all the hats that I wear.

You have got to have personality in business. Mum was invited into the American company because of who she is. She's not interested in what she can do for herself, but rather what she can do for other people. It's a testament to her. She was a really supportive companion and the partnership was the result. She is truly inspiring and a great listener.

Will and I will have more responsibility as our parents exit the business. I look forward to the day when they want to step back and have more time. They are always going to want to be busy. Why give up your passion?


Libby Whaley, Servilles Ponsonby

My parents always had their own business, living on a kiwifruit orchard. They are where my drive came from.

With the Whaley family, I think it's just the passion involved, that there's no line between personal and business. It all carries over. To make things work you still have to have that passion, you can't just shut off.

For day to day mentoring I go to my parents, but having other people to bounce things off, particularly Mary and Lizzi, is really important.

I bought Servilles Ponsonby 18 months ago, before then I managed the business. With the Whaley family, there is always a shoulder to cry on. I think just knowing that people have been there, been frightened and done it anyway, is really helpful.

For Will, being a geologist is his passion but he's more interested in working with the family. I like to say that I'm involved in the family business, not in the day to day but sometimes just coming in and offering an outsider's eyes.

- NZ Herald

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