Take a peek behind the scenes at Heyland & Whittle – meet Paddy and Ursula

Take a peek behind the scenes at Heyland & Whittle - meet Paddy and Ursula

A famous saying states that couples who play together stay together, which is essentially a way of encouraging spouses to spend plenty of time pursuing similar interests.

However, we know one couple who would argue that people who work together as well as being married also enjoy a pretty strong bond - Heyland & Whittle's very own Paddy and Ursula, who lent their names to the family firm and are still the face of the brand today.

In fact, it was the business that brought them together, as they reflected when we caught up with them for a quick chat.

New beginnings

Ursula explained that she was running a small jewellery firm and participating in "the show circuit" up and down the country when she crossed paths with Paddy, who was bringing merchandise including handmade pictures over from France to sell on his own stands.

"We happened to have a stand opposite each other. We got on well," remembered Paddy, with characteristic understatement.

In fact, they got on so well that they started up their own business importing garden furniture, also to sell at shows. However, their journey into entrepreneurship proper began when they came across someone who wanted to sell a handmade soap business. Paddy and Ursula bought the recipes for ten soaps and some designer boxes - and the rest is history.

"We stopped doing the garden furniture and decided we'd really like to turn this from a craft business into a much bigger business. It's taken us ten years," said Paddy.

Not only did they begin to pour heart and soul into this new venture, but they also found time to get married, which helped to create the brand name - Heyland & Whittle - and the logo you see on all the products today: the family crest.

"We're a composite brand," said Ursula. "I'm a Heyland; Ursula was a Whittle until she was lucky enough to marry me," joked Paddy.

Doing things as a team

Today, H&W is a household name and exports to 22 countries worldwide, as well as having a solid and loyal customer base in the UK. With such a rapidly expanding brand to manage, we wondered how Paddy and Ursula share their workload and delegate tasks between them.

"We work as a bit of a double act. Paddy is the finance side, he deals with all the numbers, and I'm more of the creative side," revealed Ursula. She paused thoughtfully and then turned to her husband. "I think Paddy, you are more assertive, you take the front role and you take the reins in meetings with the staff, when we have big staff meetings."

This almost intuitive management of tasks led to a very amusing situation when, after reading an analysis of their family firm drawn up by a consultation company, Paddy and Ursula realised that some of their business contacts had them pegged as eccentric.

"We thought about it and we don't mind that, it's all right - flamboyant and eccentric, which we are!" Ursula laughed, pointing out that when they go to meet clients including John Lewis, "Paddy's sat there with his pink reading glasses and checked shirt and a pair of yellow strides, and I'm in a bright dress. So we go bright, everywhere we go". "We like to try and play the English card when selling abroad!" added Paddy.

Heyland & Whittle's founders and co-owners Paddy and Ursula talk trade shows, being called eccentric and how they still enjoy combining entrepreneurship with married life.

A full-time job

Of course, being so involved in all aspects of the company means Paddy and Ursula put a lot of work in, year in, year out, to ensure it continues to enjoy the success that's obvious today. For instance, the couple remain the face of Heyland and Whittle at the annual trade shows and Ursula explained that it's not unusual to clock up plenty of time at the helm during weekends - which inevitably results in a lot of 'talking shop' over the breakfast and dinner tables.

"We talk about work all the time; sometimes we open our eyes in the morning and while our heads are still on the pillow we discuss something that's been in our heads overnight. That's a disadvantage of working together, because it's always on your mind," admitted Ursula. "We know a lot of people in the same position, husband and wife teams who work together, and you either can do it or you can't. We've known a lot of people who've split up because they can't. You need to have a strong relationship before you can actually work together." 

Work hard, play hard

To make sure work doesn't take over and their relationship doesn't suffer, Paddy and Ursula do designate some quiet time when they allow the H&W shutters to go down completely.

"That tends to be when we've finished work and we get home, we're making supper and listening to music, then we just read the paper or something and we're just quiet. We make sure it's something that happens - it's shutdown time," said Ursula. Being receptive to when the other has "glazed over and had enough" is also important when it comes to avoiding burnout, they agreed.

Another vital way of winding down for Paddy and Ursula is fitting in plenty of family time with their extensive and extended brood, which they spend digging sandcastles on bucket and spade breaks or in a Cornish holiday home over Christmas.

And if they do find something they disagree on at work? "If they're big decisions then it's that old-fashioned thing: sleep on it. That normally works," revealed Paddy.

Shared visions

However, a big reason why this particular husband and wife team work so well together is that they clearly share the same vision for their company.

"Thank God we both have the same goals and the same work ethic; we work equally as hard as each other and we have different strengths, but we respect each other for what each of us do and there's no blame if there's a bad decision made or [something has] gone wrong somewhere along the line. We're pretty even-tempered and calm, and it's a good relationship really, which keeps everything together," said Ursula.

So, would working with your spouse be something that Paddy and Ursula would recommend? It certainly looks that way.

"It can make you feel closer as a couple if you're involved in a business as well," insisted Paddy. "There are people who come up to us and say 'how do you work together, we'd kill each other!'. People do say that, but we'd never be in that position with the two of us." 

"I get to see my husband, who I love, every day and we work for the same goal together. We love what we do. It's just about working together, working things out and having a laugh," added Ursula.

Of course, having built up a company that the two of them obviously adore is undoubtedly very important when it comes to both job and relationship satisfaction for this couple. "Part of the joy of it is waking up at half five, six in the morning and looking forward to going to work. And we do; we work very hard, but we also enjoy ourselves," concluded Paddy.

And with that, they're back off to H&W headquarters to keep spreading their very own brand of English eccentricity - and perhaps to liven up some more boardrooms with yellow trousers. We wouldn't want it any other way!