Lindéngruppen company Alex Begg bought a world-renowned knitwear producer in November 2020. The strong people culture in Alex Begg has been the main facilitator for successfully integrating the knitting business into the current operations.
The acquired business produces quality knitwear garments from materials such as cashmere and merino wool. The company is built on the skills and craftsmanship of its employees that are developed through years of experience and knowledge.
Its manufacturing is located in the town of Hawick in southern Scotland, which has an international reputation for luxury knitted and woven products.
Many challenges present themselves when merging two businesses – not least when a global pandemic makes work more challenging.
“The pandemic made access to the manufacturing site in Hawick challenging at times due to government lockdowns and the three-hour distance from our Ayr site,” says Barbara Birnie, Director of People & Culture at Alex Begg. “Both mills also use natural fibres, which is always a challenge as they do not behave the same way every time and so there is need for skill and experience to ensure the products produced are best in class.”
Both businesses are immensely proud of their heritage and craftsmanship, which leads to high dedication and engagement from employees. They truly believe in the products they manufacture and the importance of sharing their skills with younger generations to protect the future of the industry.
“We saw opportunities for both businesses to share the same values as they were already closely aligned in terms of passion for the industry, craftsmanship and the desire to work closely as a team to manufacture amazing products,” says Birnie. “The culture of care for one another was also obvious at both sites, with many of our colleagues having known each other for years, which we knew would bridge the two sites.”
“Culture is what drives everything we do at Alex Begg – particularly through engaging employees to improve the business and create the beautiful products our customers love,” explains Birnie. “We constantly work to make Alex Begg the best possible place for employees to work.”
Alex Begg values the exceptional craftsmanship of staff at the Hawick mill that enables the company to deliver outstanding quality. A people-centred approach to merging the businesses and their two different cultures was therefore the natural choice.
“It’s not about just implementing our culture on new employees, but rather engaging and involving them to make things better for everyone,” says Birnie. “Communication of course is essential, and we have made it clear that change belongs to them – by asking the right questions and through collaboration, we are improving workplaces for everyone.”
Alex Begg has already improved employee comfort and the workflow around the Hawick mill. “We’re still at the beginning of a people-centred journey that might take two to three years to bring about an even more significant cultural change – but we are delighted with the progress to date,” says Birnie.
“When Alex Begg took over the Factory, I was very excited,” says Leah Chapman, New Product Development Co-ordinator at the Hawick mill. “The management team were extremely inspiring in where they saw the business going and spoke about the high aspirations they had for the future of the company.
“A lot changed within the first year and it could be quite overwhelming at times. Something that I found challenging adapting to in the beginning was the growth of the team I worked with. Before the new ownership, I oversaw all things ‘Sample’ related, suddenly I had a whole team that wanted to be involved in what I did, why I did it, the way I did it and how we could improve it. The management team at Begg have been supportive in understanding the changes that I and others within work force are going through.”
“All the changes have been overwhelming at times, but Alex Begg saved our jobs, and I am very happy to be part of the business,” says Aileen Johnstone, Button/Button Hole Operator at the Hawick mill. “I was recently made a champion for the Finishing Department and work closely with the other champions daily to manage our production and champion the changes driving our business. Taking on a people management role while doing my own job was difficult to begin with but we support each other, and I am looking forward to the new champion development programme.”
A six to nine month development programme began in July and is tailored to the individual development needs as well as supporting the People & Culture team to collectively deliver change.
Alex Begg has also received a substantial grant from Southern Scottish Enterprise, which supports investments the business is making in new technology and the development of people and skills. The investment is expected to support Alex Begg’s ambitious growth agenda and lead to employment of more local skilled craftspeople.