10/15/17

Facilitating Change In Family Businesses—Conversations

In my last article I spoke about the disconnects often present when the younger generation attempts to introduce change into the family business while the older generation is still in charge. Specifically, I spoke about the challenging dynamics between fathers and sons, but what I said is applicable to relationships between members of the incumbent and upcoming generations in general.

So how to bridge these disconnects and transform the nature of these dynamics from challenging to productive? The process requires time, patience, strategy, tact, and a practice of ongoing conversations.

Open, honest conversations are needed to uncover the possibilities for the business under the leadership of the next generation; needed too as a forum for older-generation members to express their concerns and objections. And necessary as well are conversations involving areas in the business where the next generation can be given uninterrupted ownership and control. These help the rising generation develop experience and gain their parents’ trust.

Conversations help the family identify problems and find solutions together. With this aim in mind, the best conversations seek understanding and agreement among multiple stakeholders and concentrate initially on the solutions easier to sell, with measurable actions.

And to conduct perhaps the most fruitful of conversations…, In Maps for Men, A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses, the authors write: “Take a walk. Father-son struggles can be reduced, loyalties strengthened, and succession completed on the walk they take together.”[1] No doubt this applies to fathers and mothers and daughters too.

The importance of constructive conversations cannot be overstated. It’s true of course that some families are better at it than others. But with careful guidance—optimally by trusted outside advisors—these conversations can lead to understanding, respect and trust.

[1] Edward Pyles, and Thomas Pyles, Maps for Men, A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses. 2016. Westbow Press, p. 177

09/30/17

Father/Son Conflict—An Obstacle To Change In Family Business

Often I hear a son in a family business speaking harshly about how his father rejects the initiatives he proposes for changes in the business. Frustrated by rejection, the son may interpret his father’s attitude to mean that he cannot accept opposition to his authority.

Alternatively, the father’s view of the situation may be that his son means to push him aside, eager to take over control. The father, threatened, fears a feeling of diminishment and loss of identity.

The above—although simply put—is a recognized dynamic in family businesses. The details vary as the families and their businesses vary; no two being the same. But behind the simplicity lurks a world of emotional complexity on each side.

What does the business mean to the father? What sacrifices did he make to build it? What were his beginnings? What obstacles did he overcome to establish a viable enterprise? In what way does his business reflect his values, and stand as a source of pride in his life’s hard work? What will happen to him should he one day have nothing to do?

What motivates the son? Ambitious, energetic; educated; enthusiastic; he wants to prove himself and his new ideas. Underneath this though, a range of emotions dwells. For example, he may feel that his abilities will not measure up to his father’s; that he cannot fill his father’s shoes. He may not be able to comfortably articulate his thoughts and vision. And he may be genuinely overconfident—overestimating the value of his modernizing ideas, born as they might be from an education at the best of contemporary business schools.

The two are, in a very real sense, unknowns to each other. And, to avoid potential business disaster, it is critical that they be introduced and reconciled.

This is the delicate work of family-business advisors, who, through disclosing relationship patterns; applying techniques such as psychological assessment tools and behavior modification; teaching skills in diplomacy and negotiation; prepare a ground for mutual understanding and respect.

It seems inevitable that there will be contention between fathers and grown sons in a family business. But by learning each other’s abilities, desires and ideas a ground can be prepared where each generation learns from the other, and a constructive forward motion established.[1]

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[1] This article reflects ideas in Moveed Fazail, 2013. Fighting for the Crown: The father/son relationship in first generation family enterprises. Family Form Practitioner, July 16, 2013

09/16/17

Women In Family Business—A New Report

An article about women in leadership roles that appeared in the New York Times on September 15, 2017, calls Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel an anomaly. Yet women are more likely to have leadership roles in politics than in business. According to Kim Harland, though, this is not the case in family businesses.

Harland is Managing Director of Insights, a not-for-profit organization operating out of Brisbane, Australia. Insights provides online education and tools to support the long-term sustainability of family businesses. Women in Family Business, their recently published e-book, offers a wealth of eye-opening facts about its subject—the impact of women in leadership positions on the health and success of their family businesses.

Here is a small sample of their findings:

Family businesses are more socially conscious than their non-family business counterparts.” And they are not as concerned with quarterly cash flow and profits, likely because they operate with far less debt.” A comment follows: “This this is truly a family-motivated attitude — what kind of leaders put their families at risk?”

“And that attitude, encompassing social and human awareness, may be one of the reasons why new research has shown that the world’s largest family businesses are far ahead of their non-family business peers in valuing gender diversity at all levels of the enterprise — from ownership, the boardroom and C-suite to every tier of the business.”

“…when women are included, they in turn support inclusiveness in the business. They help to maintain a close and cohesive family that finds value in being together beyond financial wealth. This cohesion shows all stakeholders that they are cared about, building motivation at all levels and creating passion that translates into performance, both financial and non-financial. Eventually, this cycle of care–passion–success becomes self-reinforcing, as success allows for even greater caring.”

The 40-page e-book reveals insights on women in family businesses seen through the eyes of the women who lead them. Illustrating its findings through case studies and Q&A, and culminating with an Action List for women in family business, this publication is well worth a read for both men and women in family businesses, and perhaps a place in your ‘must-keep’ reference files. 

You can download the e-book at: http://www.insights.org.au/women-in-family-business

08/16/17

Toward A Family-Business Exit Plan

In the course of investigating the perceived crisis in business transition planning, U.S. Trust Company collaborated with the Eugene Land Entrepreneurial Center of Columbia Business School to produce a white paper entitled: The Owner’s Journey: Experiences Shared and Lessons Learned.*

The white paper reads as a thorough, in-depth, many-faceted alarm bell. The clarity with which it makes the case for early transition planning—in its multitude aspects—cannot comfortably be ignored—and certainly not by family businesses that wish to survive and transition their mission, vision, knowledge and wealth to future generations.

The authors found that few entrepreneurs started companies with the sole goal of getting rich. Rather they launched companies to fix a problem, to create something new, to act upon an insight that they alone saw, or simply to make the world a better place.

Getting rich or creating a legacy family business may not be the primary motivation of an entrepreneur, but as time goes by:

…capturing wealth and ensuring the sustainability of one’s life’s work becomes, very important.

To attain these goals, broad and careful planning is indispensable. For any business this is a lengthy and challenging process. For family businesses the difficulties involved are even more complex.

Families who have significant business assets need to acknowledge that there are two dynamics: one for the family and one for the business, and these dynamics need to be addressed in coordinated estate, exit and succession planning.

Several exit scenarios are described in the white paper. But for family-business owners, the most desirable among them is to pass the business on to a new generation of family members. However, the authors warn, an owner cannot always count on his/her children to be part of an exit plan. In keeping with the paper’s theme of long-term planning, a list of recommendations are supplied for preparing a family’s next generation to effectively take their places within the business, with a view toward multi-generational success:

  • Communicate your goals regarding the company with family members regularly.
  • Expose children to the business at an early age.
  • Encourage children interested in the business to educate themselves in appropriate skills with formal education and job experience outside the firm. Determine the appropriate person in the family with the right temperament, skills and experience for leadership.
  • Working with a professional psychologist can help with decisions about family succession.
  • Having a board with a majority of nonfamily members can be helpful in professionalizing the plan.
  • Regular family meetings, which can include a third-party expert in family business dynamics, can be helpful.

These recommendations are recognized family-business best-management practices that every family business would benefit from. The emphasis however is on persistence and flexibility through inevitable changes, while preparing for and accepting an unpredictable future.

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*All text in italics are direct quotes from The Owner’s Journey: Experiences Shared and Lessons Learned. Prepared by Eugene Lane Entrepreneurship Center at Columbia Business School in collaboration with U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management

08/3/17

Relationships In The Red

Family businesses fail more often due to relationship challenges than for strictly business reasons.

For some of my blogs and newsletters over the past month or so, I have been mining the wisdom found in Maps for Men, A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses by Pyles and Pyles. In it this father and son team has shared an incredibly meaningful understanding of and guide for families in business.

Here is one of their observations about relationships that I find important when thinking about these challenges:

“Relationships are the emotional bank in a family business. Communication is the main currency of the bank, where deposits and withdrawals are constantly being made. Like any bank, when the withdrawals outnumber the deposits, the relationship is in the red. High stakes situations require trust and leadership skills in order to turn anger and hurtful situations into meaningful and constructive dialogue and decisions. Those leaders who have the most influence create a parallel process of solid relationships and effective results.”[1]

As social beings we are dependent upon good relationships and open communication. Failure to cultivate these within both the family system and the business system is a major threat to multi-generational success.

[1] Pyles and Pyles, Maps for Men. A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses (WestBow Press, 2016), 162

 

07/7/17

Wealth Transfer And Human Capital

This week I am continuing to present ideas and passages from Maps for Men: A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses by father and son authors Edgell and Thomas Pyles.

On page 186, the Pyles’ reference Family Wealth: Keeping It in the Family by attorney and family business consultant James E. Hughes Jr. According to Hughes, the top reason for failure of transferring wealth across three generations “is that family leaders concentrate on the family’s financial capital to the exclusion of its human and intellectual capital.”

The Pyles’ go on to present results of a study by Dr. Dennis T. Jaffe with Wise Counsel Research. The researchers identified a set of seven core qualities common among families whose net worth exceeds $200 million who, through at least three generations, have successfully transitioned their wealth. Among these: Active development of human capital.

When it’s so important, why is this core quality so often neglected? The Pyles’ research shows that the reasons are primarily psychological. Loss of trust, lack of communication exact a high price. Building relationships among family members; accepting weaknesses, developing strengths, encouraging ambitions, imparting values is essential for transitioning “talent” capital through the next generation, and thus ensuring the successful transitioning of monetary wealth as well.

The Pyles’ issue a warning: “Considerable creative and constructive effort can be directed at crafting sophisticated trust documents, elegant business plans, and family constitutions, but the keys to implementation are locked up in the family psychology.”

06/23/17

Maps For Men—A GPS For Fathers And Sons

In my previous newsletter and blog post I referenced one of the most important books on my family enterprise bookshelf: Maps for Men: A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses, authored by Edgell and Thomas Pyles—father and son.

The Pyles’ argue that for a family business to be successful fathers and sons must consistently confront sensitive situations and implement crucial decisions—both financial and emotional—in a forthright manner. They believe there is no room for passivity or neglect.

Early in the book the authors acknowledge their deliberate exclusion of mothers and daughters from their discussions—a point of contention which has been raised when I have spoken to others about their book. They write that they have a “deep appreciation for the heroine’s journey, the role of the mother in the family and the leadership provided by women in the business world.” They also recognize their concepts with regard to men may parallel a woman’s journey. However, their work is directed toward helping men understand their relational and generational issues.

The authors define their purpose for the book—set up a framework to help fathers and sons understand and solve their personal and professional issues, improve their communication and decision-making skills and achieve a leadership advantage in growing and managing a family company. Their premise—the way fathers and sons live their lives will be decisive for how the business turns out.

06/9/17

I Have Been Fired Twice By My Father.

No, not me.

Rather this is an opening line I often use when introducing what I do professionally. The original statement was made by a student in a class on entrepreneurship I was teaching at New York University.

The student had related that his father had been saying he wanted to retire soon. The student’s response to this was to increase his own involvement in the business, proposing ideas for expansion and operations efficiency—areas his father struggled with. The student’s father resisted all of his suggestions and told his son in so many words: “Just do what I tell you to do. When you are in charge, then you can do what you want.” When the young man persisted in his bid for increased involvement, his father issued an ultimatum: “My way or the highway.”

Dynamics like these are not uncommon in family businesses, where a son or daughter is pushing to have relevancy; significance; to make a difference, and having their ideas rejected. When their aspirations are interpreted by incumbent leadership as irritants, or threats, an invitation to ‘hit the highway’ becomes an obvious solution.

The foundations of these dynamics are not simple, and solutions may involve psychological intervention to address deep-rooted conflicts. Apart from that, or perhaps in conjunction with it, taking deliberate steps to open lines of communication can be very helpful, providing for honest and constructive conversation about such important considerations as:

  • Values and vision for the business and family
  • Possibilities for the business under the leadership of the next generation
  • Policies and procedures for next-generation family members wanting to enter the family business
  • Areas of the business the next generation may be given ownership or uninterrupted control of
  • Goals of individual family members for themselves and for the family today and ten years from now

It is important to recognize that multigenerational success in a family business is not a random occurrence, but something that requires the guidance of the older generation. In their book, MAPS for Men: A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses, Edgell Franklin and Thomas Edward Pyles point out that, “Research on the correlation of success in family business shows that a positive relationship between a father and son represents a strategic advantage.”[1]

I believe this finding is relevant to a positive relationship between any parent and child.

[1] Edgell Franklin Pyles, Thomas Edward Pyles (2016). MAPS for Men: A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.

05/26/17

Facebook Leadership—Triad For Success

“In a relationship as critical as the one at the top, how do you create open lines of communication, respect differences and grow the business together?[1]

In his article Sheryl Sandberg Shares the Key to Creating Chemistry at the Top, Zillow Group CEO Spencer Rascoff asks this question. He is probing into the secret of the successful collaboration between Facebook’s “oddest couple” leadership team—Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg. The answers he elicited hit the nail on the head for me when considering what’s needed for growing a successful family enterprise: “carve out time to communicate; prioritize the relationship; find a partner who shares your values.”

The ultimate management challenge for a family business is to open communications.

Without functioning lines of communication a palpable underground of misunderstandings, resentments, personality conflicts, will ripple through the family and the business impacting their workings and the bottom line.

Family meetings and staff meetings held on a regular basis provide groundwork for clearing problems before they build up. Between senior executives, the importance of maintaining constant communication cannot be stressed enough. Lack of strong partnership at the top can seriously hinder an organization’s ability to live its values and fulfill its mission.

Prioritizing relationships is another challenge for family businesses.

 This key point is easily overlooked because of the familiarity born into the family. When everyone grew up with everyone else it’s hard to see beyond personalities and personal histories. But for good or for ill, quality of relationships impacts the prosperity of both business and family.

Shared values lie at the very foundation of family enterprises.

The nature of the business and its mission may change with a changing external marketplace; values are the bedrock that underlies longevity. Again from Spencer Rascoff: “If you don’t have a shared language of values in an organization, it won’t work.”

The success of Facebook cannot be denied. Implementing its executives’ triad of ingredients for success—communication, relationship and values—can help family businesses achieve their own success, now and into the future.

[1] All quotes in this article from: Sheryl Sandberg Shares the Key to Creating Chemistry at the Top, accessible online at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/facebooks-sheryl-sandberg-shares-key-creating-top-spencer-rascoff

05/10/17

Innovation—The Surprise Factor

In The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs tells the story of 3M. The company started as a supplier of processed sand to metal manufacturers. As an offshoot of their core business, they decided to manufacture sandpaper. And they failed. The adhesive they developed just did not work to stick the sand o the paper. But they did not give up.

And surprise!—Their continued experiments with adhesives eventually led to the development of a whole line of tapes—including  that office staple, Scotch Tape—and much more.

A friend told me about a conversation with a master ceramic artist at this year’s Smithsonian Craft Fair. The artist said that often when he opens his kiln to remove the fired piece; it is not what he expected. He finds instead a beautiful surprise!

So innovation, with its inevitable process of trial and error, should not, and importantly, must not be feared. And it’s also no use to insist on finding what you initially are looking for. The secret: be open to surprise!!