The Top Seven Things I Learned at Crain’s

Last week I attended the Crain’s New York Family Business Summit where I heard fathers, daughters, sons and siblings discuss the joys and challenges of working side by side. I listened to stories of how families managed to grow their businesses with each successive generation, and learned how family businesses are seen from the unique perspective of non-family CEOs. http://www.crainsnewyork.com/events-calendar/details/4/3417544

Here are my top seven takeaways

1. In a family business good communication is learned early within the family environment.

2. A family business can be like a tree with many branches growing in a variety of directions, but all branches have the same root.

3. When instilling motivation in a 400-person organization, know that some people will ‘get it’ and others won’t. Focus on the ones who do. Money helps too.

4. Multi-generational family enterprises who own their real estate can better control their destiny.

5. Ten years ahead is not too early to start planning for the transfer of leadership from a non-family CEO to a family member.

6. Coming on board early and learning the business from the bottom up proves invaluable for someone who subsequently takes on the role of CEO.

7. Family firms should seek a president who has an all-encompassing perspective on the business, as well as presidential and leadership qualities. If these qualities are not found within the family, go outside to hire the next-generation leadership. A subsequent leader might be a family member.


That Which Endures

I recently received a review copy of Geoff Colvin’s new book, Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will.[1] In it he asks which human skills will be highly valued tomorrow, given the growth of ever more awesomely able technology.

Calvin observes that the skills valued by the economy are changing. He explains that mastering technical skills that have been in demand in the past, no longer makes us different. In her review of the book, Pulitzer-prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes that the skills that differentiate us are: “Instead, empathy, creativity, humor, relationship building, and expressing ourselves with the greater power than logic can ever achieve.”

I can’t help think of these as inherent qualities of successful multi-generational enterprises.

I like Colvin, not for dispelling the unspoken fear of being replaced by a machine, which does certainly appear from time to time—not so much for me as for my children—but for emphasizing the value and importance of inherent talents and personal qualities over and above skills that can be mechanized.

It is, then, the vital human touch that will carry our businesses; our economy; into the future.


1 Colvin, Geoff. Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2016.


Dreaming, Intention and Process

If your dream is to see your children carry on the family business, you must both look at every day with that intention, and enjoy it as a process. And, as Seth Godin writes in a recent blog: “…the end result is always at the end of an arc, always the result of many steps, of earning trust, of building a connection.” http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/10/now-is-never.html


Letting the Children Go

To all families there comes the time of letting the children go. Sooner or later, they leave home and move out into the world. 

But for parents, truly letting children go is often much more complex than that. It requires the emotional cutting of ties with expectations; hopes; dreams—about what our children should do with their lives; who we think our children are; our views of their abilities; personality; gifts; ambitions.

For business families especially, expectations confront realities with regard to the roles the children could, should, will, will not play in the family business. How are the children disappointing, perplexing, annoying?

By tying themselves to agendas for their children’s future, parents impinge on their own inner peace. It’s really hard to see and be truthful about these inner agendas, and harder still to let them go—but this way lies freedom.

The children are set free to follow their own paths—to continue in our footsteps; to surpass us, to do less, to succeed, or fail. And parents are set free as well, to explore the challenges and rewards their own future holds.