Interview with Graeme King
How different is your approach to business compared to your father’s and his father’s before that?
You certainly feel a responsibility when you’re running a family business that’s been going for over 160 years. You feel responsible to the community as we’ve been employers for that length of time. When it comes to my approach to business, although I have a different slant – I am a chartered accountant and had the benefit of university education whereas my dad was a self-made man who created a lot of the business from scratch – many of the values he instilled in me are still prevalent in the company today.
After 160 years, what is Hugh King & Co’s secret?
The key to our success is producing good quality sand and continually reinvesting in equipment which is my father’s legacy – you don’t extract money from the business, starving it of investment. Our aim is to make a profit so we can continue to reinvest. We also have to continually train our staff and be a good place to work because people are the other key advantage. The skills they build up, their ability to help the end user and their aptitude to identify ways of improving the production process is crucial.
We want to produce the best-quality sand on the market, and that’s effectively the first line of any employee engagement. We don’t expect to produce the cheapest nor the most expensive sand. I think that’s why we’ve stayed in business while other sand quarries have disappeared.
How does innovation drive Hugh King & Co forward?
To achieve consistency with our sand, behind the scenes we have to innovate – we can’t just rest on our laurels and stand still with our products. So innovation is key to our continued growth.
Compared to the computer industry however, where you need a new product or upgrade every few months, the pace of change in the construction and sports sand industries isn’t at that rate. You see innovation coming through every five years or sometimes longer. Change happens more slowly, but that’s the nature of the industries we supply – we’re dealing with fundamentals rather than high-tech requirements.
It’s important that we continue to come up with ideas although equally, we need to make sure we’re not inventing things for the sake of it. Product development needs to respond to market demand, so communication with customers and potential customers is very important. It’s about trying to work out how we can help our customers do their jobs more easily. We try to take the hassle factor out of it.
What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?
Especially in the sports industry, it’s noticeable how welcoming people are when you visit them. Greenkeepers are tremendous people to talk to with a great knowledge of their own industry and a keen interest in ours. But probably the best part of the job is the satisfaction of knowing we get it right most of the time.
The biggest badge of pride for me is that we are a manufacturing company in a country where manufacturing has declined very much in my lifetime. Knowing how significant financial services have become, I am very proud that we are bucking the trend – we’re a manufacturing company that is continuing to expand.
How do you balance the history of the company with its continued expansion?
It’s certainly difficult when you feel the responsibility of time. Does it make you more cautious? Do we not innovate as much as new companies would? They’re prepared to roll the dice and if it doesn’t work, they can start again. We definitely have to strike a balance. But a driving force is to continually invest in capital equipment and in our employees.
What’s next for Hugh King & Co?
We’re continuing to grow and we have growth targets in place. But the future will be about satisfying customer demand. We need to listen to customers and keep them informed about what we are doing. It’s about constantly improving what we do so that our customers can do what they do with the minimum amount of hassle.