Family-owned businesses are a unique and integral component of our economy with distinct competitive advantages over non-family, management-based businesses.
There are, in family businesses, like in entrepreneurial businesses, concentrated ownership structures with overlapping responsibilities of management that enable speed in decision-making and “getting to market.” Family businesses, however, benefit further from its single family-ownership-management interaction.
A desire to protect the family name translates into high product and service quality, and a higher return on investments, which being a high-quality leader produces. Sons and daughters growing up in the business develop a deep understanding of the history and culture of the family firm as well as of the industry, the market, and the products. They watch leadership in action and decisions being made; they learn the benefits of patient money; and they develop a vision towards generations into the future.
Yet, while family businesses account for approximately 85% of all businesses in America, less than 30% survive to the second generation and 10% may make it into the third generation.
The problem is that most business owners have never participated in a succession process before. They started as an entrepreneurial business and grew into a family business. The focus has been on their growth; and they are unaware of best management practices of “family” in a family business. And, like most, passing it on some day – not being a part of the business – is not part of their thinking.
Children may participate in the business to help out, and stay because it is the path of least resistance. Perhaps they are expected to, or are needed. Or it becomes assumed that they will take it over, whether they are best suited or not, whether they want to or not. Or whether the founder is ready to leave or not.
The challenges to succession in a family business grow more complex as the business and family grows. Handing over the keys one day without consideration to nepotism, fairness, sibling rivalries, non-family members working in the business, birthright, estate planning, and an understanding of how the family operates in the context of the business is a prescription for failure.
The heads of family businesses should care. They have a number of unique competitive advantages, and when developed with a perspective of the next generation can become a very powerful force supporting the family and serving the community in which it operates, for generations.
Like everything else – your business, your investments, and a vacation benefit from planning. As the founder you may be struggling with how to leave, no clear successor, what’s next for you, or what this means to you, the business and the family; and as a sibling you may be encountering responsibility without authority, shareholder second-guessing, or sibling rivalry.
Needed are clarity on the goals, identification of the alternatives, and understanding of steps to get there, and the means to discuss them with the family and the managers of the business.
I grew up in a third-generation family construction business. In my business I work with the heads and next generation siblings of family businesses on developing the relationships and implementing family business best management practices to help them grow their business across generations. Last year I started teaching, as an adjunct professor, Family Business Management in the Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York. More importantly I have begun working with my siblings – all who are small business owners and self employed – to use our collective experience, knowledge and resources to benefit our children in generations to come.