The Northern Ireland Family Business Forum, which was set up three years ago by accountancy firm Harbinson Mulholland is calling all locally owned and family businesses to come along and register for their annual conference next month which has a programme packed with relevant topics facing the sector.

Entitled ‘The Future of Family Businesses’ this year’s conference which is being delivered in association with the Ulster University Business School will address key issues of concern that are critical to family and locally owned companies as well as what helps make a successful family firm.

Host, Wendy Austin who is one of NI’s best known journalists and broadcaster, has very fond memories of her own growing up as a child visiting grandparents, Mollie and Glover Austin, who lived in Londonderry and ran the world’s oldest independent department store, Austins in the city’s Diamond area.  Wendy recalls,

“Grandpa and Granny worked in the family business all their lives.  Once their 4 sons were born, my dad and his brothers helped out, but it was my uncles Claude and Campbell who ran Austins, that decided to sell it in the Seventies, after my grandfather died and my great uncles retired.

“Even though the Troubles had taken its toll on the city centre in Derry especially after a few big bomb explosions, Austins kept trading until it closed in 2016.  I think their good work ethic and the strong relationships they had with each other was key in keeping the business going.

“As children my late brother and I used to love to visit the store, particularly at Christmas with all the hustle and bustle of shoppers going up and down the old-fashioned lift that went up through the middle of the shop.  We loved our annual visit to Santa there too.  The iconic and beautiful building which withstood two world wars and the Troubles now stands boarded up, but it would be wonderful to see it open again someday”, said Wendy.

Speakers at the event will include Adam Flanagan, a 19 year old Generation Zer who started his first business at the age of 15, Vincent Carton who used to run an 8th generation business called Manor Farms with his brother Justin, before they sold it two years ago and Dr James Espey OBE, Founder of The Last Drop Distillers LTD.  He will be there to discuss ‘Against the Grain’ Fathers, Daughters and Whisky with his daughter Beanie who is also a Director of the business and Co-Founder of XECO Wines.

Senior partner at Harbinson Mulholland, Darren McDowell believes conferences like this one will help locally owned and family businesses to be a part of the collaborative and guided discussions on the issues that all family firms are facing today.  He said

“We set up the Northern Ireland Family Business Forum so it could deliver events like this which will enable local businesses here to connect with each other and industry experts in an open environment where they can share real-life problems and real-life solutions.  As an independent accountancy practice, we work across all sectors, many in the family business arena and these businesses are the lifeblood of the local economy here.

Also supporting the conference is Ian Smyth, Lecturer of Human Resources at Ulster University Business School (UUBS).  He said

“At UUBS, we are delighted to partner once again with Harbinson Mulholland in the Family Business Forum.  We are deeply committed to the growth and development of the regional economy and with Harbinson Mulholland as leading advocates for the family business sector here, this partnership is one we are proud of.  Our conference on 8th November showcases the best that Family Businesses have to offer, as well as helping firms to plan for the future”.

Throughout the day there will be a panel discussion based on the topic ‘Children of the Revolution; Can the next generation be agents of change?  Vincent Carton, Former MD of Manor Farms will be joined by Gavin Annon from Mount Charles Group, Angela Bennett of Diamond Systems, John McKee from Linkubator and Mairi Mickel from Mairi Mickel Business Families.

Anyone interested in coming along can find out further information and register at

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