Listening to the radio early yesterday morning, I heard the story of Hillmount Nursery in the hills above Belfast as told by Robin Mercer the third generation of his family to manage the business. Contrary to the body of evidence that tells us that family business are most at risk of failing in the third generation, Robin has continued to expand the business. The fourth generation is already taking an active part in its further expansion into the future.
I have been a customer since returning to Belfast a little over 10 years ago. I have watched the enlargement of the shop, the car park and the restaurant. It’s where you can be excited by the arrival of all the colours of spring for your garden and where Christmas is incubated as Hallow’een passes. Crowds of children come to welcome Santa and enjoy the petting zoo. The massive car park fills to overflowing when all the Dads turn out on Father’s Day to enjoy the collection of cherished vintage cars that assemble for the occasion. The glass walled restaurant is filled daily by people like me who enjoy well cooked food served in front of a heartwarming rural view, flooded with daylight that lifts the spirits on the dullest of winter days.
Robin tells us that he left school at sixteen without an exam pass to his name. He wanted to get his hands dirty with potting compost and the raw materials of the nursery business he was born into. So how does a man of the soil run and grow such an enterprise that delights so many faithful customers week in, week out as the seasons turn?
With love is the answer. It welcomes you at the door in the provision of wheel chairs for those who need them. It was the first place we took my father to after a five month stay in hospital a few years ago. It is yours in the smile and the word that Robin and all the members of his family have for the customers who come. It is present in the enthusiasm the garden centre manager has for helping this customer select the most suitable plant to mark a special occasion in a friend’s life. It is abundant in the collection of photos, documents and artefacts laid out as a living museum celebrating 75 years of history.
Love is not taught at business school. It is not present for many children in the schools they are obliged to go to to sit the exams they are told are the passport to success in life. Yet love is the access to the best of ourselves, to our creativity for new ideas and solving problems. The cares of the world can quickly switch our brains into self defence mode. In that mode we invest our energies in trying to win rather than simply giving our best and ironically our brains become less nimble and creative and our best slips from our grasp.
Love that shows up at work and at school in the form of acceptance, encouragement and belief in the ambitions and enthusiasms of those around us opens our minds and fills our hearts with the possibilities of the future. It is those very possibilities for the future that charge the batteries of each new generation. It is those values that have ensured that Hillmount Nursery is thriving in the hands of its third generation guardian, Robin Mercer and that the children of its present customers will be bringing their children to greet Santa Claus on his arrival when Robin and I are pushing up the daisies.