Fifth generation members of the Cooper brewing dynasty were urged to forge their own careers by their fourth-gen father when their Australian family business was struggling to survive in the 1970s.
Melanie Cooper (pictured), 58, finance director at Coopers Brewery and chairwoman of the Coopers Brewery Foundation, said entering the family business was something she and her brother Tim Cooper (pictured), 63, now managing director, aimed for when growing up.
“We grew up opposite the brewery,” Melanie told CampdenFB.
“It was in an Adelaide suburb called Leabrook, and my two brothers and I always aspired to join the company; my sister’s a doctor. But in the 1970s, we went through a really rough time, when there was exodus of shareholders. I remember in about 1973 my brother, who was in his final year at school, saying to our father he’d like to study engineering. My father said, ‘Tim, don’t do it because in six weeks there won’t be a brewery and we will be gone’.”
Instead, Melanie Cooper graduated with a degree in Economics at the University of Adelaide and was employed by Price Waterhouse for four years. By the mid-1980s, the family returned their brewing business to growth and prosperity thanks in part to their retailing of home brew kits. They needed another accountant and Melanie was invited to apply. She joined the brewery in 1985 as assistant accountant and in 1989 was appointed company secretary. In 1993 Melanie resigned to have a family, but returned to the brewery in 2002 as financial accountant.
Brother Tim Cooper completed his medical studies in 1979 and practised hospital medicine for seven years, working mainly in the United Kingdom as a registrar in medicine and cardiology. He took a career break from medicine in 1986-87 to study brewing science in Birmingham, England and was awarded the Sir William Waters Butler Award for top student.
Tim returned home to enter the family business in 1990, starting as technical manager then operations manager in 1993. He completed his MBA and took on the role of project director for the design and construction of the family’s new brewery at Regency Park.
Today Melanie and Tim serve on the Coopers Brewery board of directors with three other family members and two non-family members. The board introduced an innovative structural reorganisation this year to give their own young sixth generation family members the time to gain practical business experience before the expected generational transfer of control in 5-10 years.
“Certainly when we were at school we were advised not to join the company but fortunately, with good custodianship by my father and his cousin Maxwell, they were able to turn the company around,” Melanie Cooper said.
Melanie and Tim Cooper’s experiences with their patriarch and succession planning chimed with The Family Business Survey 2019/2020, which was launched this month by London-based professional services outfit Smith and Williamson. From the 69 responses received in April, 48% of family business owners said it was “quite important” and 30% said it was “extremely important” to encourage able next gen family members to become involved in the business. That said, few wanted this expectation to be a burden for future generations, and those involved must have the “heart and drive” to persist.
The survey said 46% were “extremely confident” or “quite confident” that one or more of their next generation would want to work in the family business. Indicating a preference for a start later in life and post-university, the majority (35%) said 26 to 35 was the preferred age group they wanted their children to join the family business, with another 35% suggest saying it would depend on the individual. Most respondents (69%) looked to create secondments for family members to non-family companies.
The average age for succession to take place in the world’s wealthiest family offices was found to be 45, according to the new Global Family Office Report 2019 by Campden Wealth with UBS. Only 29% of next gens were younger than 40 at the time of succession.