By Vraj Pankhania, who spoke with Paul Andrews of Family Business United.
When was the business founded?
The Westcombe Group was founded in 1975.
What does it do?
Westcombe Group specialises in revitalising beautiful Grade I and II listed and historic buildings which have fallen into disrepair, repurposing relics of our past into solutions for the future. The company is driven by providing homes to meet the demands of tomorrow, whilst maintaining Britain’s historic identity through its buildings.Our business model is simple, we purchase old, listed and office buildings which once had a social purpose but now have fallen into disuse. We then provide the necessary investment, care, and attention to re-purpose these properties, converting them into useful buildings such as luxury apartments, affordable housing, offices, and hotels. The design and materials are state of the art, while we ensure that our projects’ locations and finishing touches are characterised by thoughtfulness and precision.We also run the Dholak Partnership Homes; an affordable housing association founded in 2019, set up to help address the ongoing housing crisis. During the pandemic, it housed NHS and other key workers across London.
Tell me a little about the history of the business?
The Pankhania family originates from the Gujarat region of India. Over 100 years ago the family travelled to East Africa, where I was born. I vividly remember walking to school barefoot while my peers all wore shoes. It is this deprivation that drove me to achieve the entrepreneurial success my family enjoys today. I relocated to the UK in 1969 and was given an initial loan of £5,000 by a British bank in 1975, which I used to buy the company’s first property, a house on Westcombe Hill, South London. As they say, the rest is history!
Are there any other family members working in the business?
Family plays a vital role in the running of the Westcombe Group. I was keen to ensure that my sons, Kamal, and Sunil understood the importance of hard work, perseverance, and the value of money from a young age – therefore, they have been working in the business since they were teens. They now run the business as Managing Director and Operations Director respectively which is fantastic to see.
As a multi-generational business, what has helped your firm stand the test of time?
Westcombe’s values, which are ingrained into the fabric of the organisation, have been critical to its financial success and longevity. Family is at the heart of this. Rather than being motivated solely by short-term profits, we think about the big picture – how can we ensure the business is run in a way that is sustainable for future generations. We have never forgotten our humble beginnings. This drives the ethos of wanting to give back and help the communities which our properties home. It is this rationale which was behind the creation of the company’s philanthropic arm, the Westcombe Foundation, in 2008.
Do you build the family ownership into the marketing and brand narrative and if so, how?
We’re very proud of being a family business and we ensure that the Pankhania family ethos of transparency, trust, and dedication is communicated through our emphasis on building strong working relationships with clients and the communities we support.
What do you think makes working in a family business special?
Having built the business from the ground up whilst also raising my family, I cannot overstate the immense pride I have in seeing both aspects of my life having flourished and grown together. Passing the business down to my sons means that I can rest assured knowing the values, experiences, and principles of the Westcombe Group – which are the bedrock of the company’s success – will continue to play a fundamental role in the organisation for many years to come.
The world has become so fast paced and change is relentless, yet family is one of the few constants left. Combining our ability to adapt and evolve, whilst never forgetting the importance of family, is the reason we have been a success over the last 50 years.
Are there any disadvantages associated with working in a family business?
As with any business which has a relatively small number of employees, managing personalities and interpersonal relationships is challenging yet critical to ensuring the smooth operation of the company. Now when you factor in our familial relationship, it creates a certain frankness and fire which may be absent in non-family business. This can, at times, cause clashes – however, I truly believe the business is all the better for it. And at the end of the day, when we all sit down around the table for a family dinner, business is left at the office!
Have you taken any particular steps in terms of governance to help protect the business for the future?
We are currently reviewing our processes internally with the aim of ensuring that our family values of transparency, trust, and dedication are enshrined formally within the company.
Is there a next generation in the wings?
Absolutely! I have 4 beautiful grandchildren who I’m hoping will step up and drive the Westcombe Group forward for many years to come.
What advice would you give to anyone in the next generation considering joining their family firm?
Be patient, humble and willing to learn – but also be ready to challenge the status quo. Although the adage ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ still holds firm today, the ability to innovate and evolve is what differentiates a good company from a great one. The next generation is key to this, and I look forward to seeing what new ideas my grandchildren will bring to the Group.
If you could talk to your younger self before you joined the business, what would you say?
Never take no for an answer. People will doubt and question you and your ideas, however, block out noise, lean on your family support and persevere.
If you could sum up the family business in three words, what would they be?
Intrepid, trailblazing, and enduring.
This article was originally published by Family Business United.
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