03/24/17

Accident and Intention

A young family business—first or second generation—in which the family’s next generation have begun to find their places, has reached a point where two possible paths to becoming a multi-generational enterprise emerge. The incumbent generation can either let things play out willy-nilly—without any plan as to what the business may look like in the future—and perhaps, quite by accident, become multigenerational. Or they can begin with intention.

Intention sets the stage and gets the wheels turning. The thinking starts with what’s possible for the family and the business under future generations.

Starting with intention the current leadership can set their sights on a long-term vision: wealth creation across generations, and a legacy. With this in mind they can then draw upon centuries of knowledge and documented experiences from those families that have created successful multigenerational family enterprises.

To pave a surer path to multi-generational success, start with intention.

03/18/17

Family Businesses Got Edge

A range of factors inherent to family businesses give them “the edge,” a natural set of competitive advantages over non-family business. Included among these:

  • Values embedded over generations
  • Generations of accumulated knowledge of their business and the industry in which the operate
  • Agility within rapidly changing markets derived from interaction of family, management, and ownership
  • Desire to protect the family name and reputation translating into high product/service quality and higher returns on investment
  • Next-generation ingenuity helping the family business maintain touch with emerging technology and the youth market
  • Concentrated ownership structure leading to higher overall corporate productivity
  • Longer-term commitments that stabilize investments in people and innovation

A first-generation family business that recognizes these advantages up front is better positioned to develop a far-seeing vision and empower the business’ growth into a multi-generational enterprise.

03/10/17

Impact Stewardship and Family Business

I recently saw Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change at the International Center of Photography in New York City. Included among the works on exhibit, a riveting video entitled “3 Seconds.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQYiRwNd7ug

“3 Seconds” begins by stating the age of the earth—4.5 billion years; time since the appearance of our species, homo sapiens—140,000 years. Then, conceptually condensing the earth’s lifespan into the space of one day, 24 hours, the video goes on to reveal that on that scale mankind arrived on the scene in the last 3 seconds of the day—3 seconds before midnight. With excruciating clarity the video presents images of the impact mankind has had on our world’s environment in just those 3 seconds… and asks: “what of the 4th second?”

What will be the impact of our stewardship in the next second, and the next?

In the condensed timescale the video suggests, the entire history of family business—the oldest form of business—has taken place in the blink an eye. Where will it go from here?

Stewardship, a concept readily understood in environmental issues, is also one of my favorite family business concepts. Simply stated: “My role as head of the family business is to receive it from my predecessor, care for it, nourish and grow it, and pass it on to the next generation in better condition than when I received it.”

This is a valuable consideration, as most family business don’t survive past their 3rd generation. What does the future hold for the 4th generation in your family enterprise?

03/2/17

Success—An Inspired View

In her bestseller, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder[1], Arianna Huffington makes an impassioned and compelling case for the need to redefine success in today’s world through well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving.

Is this family business?

 

[1] Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, Ariana Huffington, 2014, 2015. Harmony Books, Crown Publishing Group/Penguin Random House, LLC, New York

02/25/17

Benchmarks for Family Enterprise Survival

In September, 2012, Dennis T. Jaffe, Ph.D., of Saybrook University and Jane Flanagan, of Family Office Exchange published Best Practices of Successful, Global, Multi-Generational Family Enterprises. Responding to the lack of solid research into strategies that support long-established family enterprises, they undertook an academic-level study with the goal of benchmarking best practices for multi-generational longevity.

Their research confirmed what has long been known among family-business advisors about best practices of family-enterprise governance, family relationships and development of next generation members:

Nurture the Family
Steward the Family Enterprises
Cultivate Human Capital for the Next Generation

Jaffe and Flanagan found that successful family enterprises strive for a balance among the three. If problems arise in any of these areas, the family does not see itself as successful.

In upcoming blog articles I will expand on each of these best practices areas, and finally discuss the importance of balance among them.

02/18/17

Star Trek Ideals and Family Business

It’s a well-known fact that since its first airing in 1966, the Star Trek series has inspired generations of young people to become scientists. YouTube abounds with videos of astrophysicists; theoretical physicists; astronomers; cosmologists; giving lectures, taking part in conferences, presenting their latest findings. And in video after video, the scientists invoke their debt to Star Trek.

Star Trek’s optimistic view of the future continues to bring young people into careers where they see themselves helping to make that future a reality. In a way, the Star Trek world might be seen as a global business owned and operated by and for the family of mankind, one with diversity, innovation, communication, cooperation and courage.

The Star Trek world has similarities to well-established multi-generational family businesses. It has a far-seeing vision. It has a mission, and it has uplifting values. It encourages innovation—often the very lifeline for survival. Among long-lived family businesses can be found perhaps, some of the ideals that Star Trek showcases; a zest for exploration, flexibility, loyalty, job placement by virtue of inborn talents and acquired skills, mutual respect, integrity in leadership.

Could this kind of view, and these types of ideals, inspire your family’s young people to seek their place and their careers within your family business? What kind future do they see? Is it one they can wish to help realize?

02/11/17

Saved The Business—The Only Problem Is…

We all know the story of the surgeon reporting the operation went well; the only problem—the patient died.

Some thirty years ago family businesses became a subject of investigations, and advisors rushed to help them. Their initial thinking: because it is inherent in the nature of family-owned enterprises that leadership is by family members, the businesses lacked the necessary acumen and skills to be successful. Consequently, they focused on establishing procedures, protocols and practices that helped the businesses prosper. The only problem—the family died.

Since then emphasis on helping family businesses has shifted focus—and importantly so—onto family needs and goals, with expertise coming from a wide range of areas including psychology, family counseling, family systems, estate planning, mediation, conflict management, career development, substance abuse, wealth management and leadership development.

My own experience though, in providing life support for early-generation family businesses and their families, has revealed that many need to learn the importance of professionalizing the business and understand how to implement professionalization if they want to be successful across generations.

Professionalization is the process of moving a business from an owner-centric to a management-centric entity—one in which the business operates from established processes rather than requiring its leadership to provide daily supervision. Achieving this goal allows leadership to focus on the necessary entrepreneurial roles of business development, client cultivation and long-term planning for both the family and the business.

02/3/17

Listening to Chopin

An entrepreneurial client recently mentioned one of his favorite Ted Talks: The Transformative Power of Classical Music, by presenter Ben Zander. By way of various piano renditions of a piece by Chopin, Zander illustrates several aspects of understanding classical music that I found extremely relevant to family business success. https://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion

Ben Zander is conductor and music director of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. I had known him through his book, national best seller, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. In it he describes his leadership style as a conductor as one of embracing possibilities. He has subsequently taught workshops on his approach to leadership in corporate settings.

Several ideas from his Ted Talk came through to me as having critical relevance to family business:

  • No one is tone deaf; rather, perhaps, they have not learned how to hear the music. The capacity of family members to be instrumental in business success may be overlooked even by themselves. Look for signs of it in their conduct of everyday life.
  • An important characteristic of a leader is not doubting for one moment the capacity of people to realize whatever it is that the leader is dreaming.
  • The job of a leader is to make the players powerful, and this awakens possibilities of creativity and expression. Making other family members powerful awakens possibilities in them that will benefit the family.
  • Placing similar emphasis on every note in your business will distract you from your view of the big picture.
  • Expecting a perfect performance does not allow for the creativity and spontaneity that produce a resilient and viable next generation.

All of these ideas point to ways of embracing possibilities within your family business. They speak of a leadership style of openness and confidence in the family, the business vision, and in success for generations to come.

01/27/17

Envisioning A Great Family Business

My blog this week is built around two quotes from Sam Johnson, the fourth-generation patriarch of the SC Johnson Company. The first:

Each generation has the responsibility of bringing to the business their own vision for the future of the business.”[1]  

Recently my wife and I spent a weekend at the Mohonk Mountain House on the southern edge of the Catskills in upstate New York.

Built by twin brothers Albert and Alfred Smiley in the 1870’s as a small getaway for family and friends, Mohonk Mountain House continues today as an historic resort hotel owned and operated by the Smiley brothers’ descendants. Subsequent generations have added to both the house and to the adjoining Mohonk Preserve whose over 9300 acres of trails, woodlands and pastures are open to guests of the Mountain House and the public.

I marveled at the scope and durability of the Smiley brothers’ original vision. While the house has been updated with modern conveniences, the descendants of Albert and Alfred have not moved far from the original vision. It retains its 19th century character, and the values of stewardship, reflection, and renewal are all evident to visitors and guests.

Again from Sam Johnson:

A great family business, no matter its size, has to be more than a financial investment. To survive long term, it must be a social positive for the employees, a benefit for the community, a passion for future generations of the family, and committed to earning the goodwill of the consumer every day.”[2]

This kind of success starts with a vision–like the Smiley brothers’–no matter how small or how large; with an intent no matter how viable; with a first step no matter how insignificant, embracing the wisdom of Sam Johnson.

[1] Ernesto Poza, Family Business, 3rd Edition. (Independence, KY: South-Western Cengage Learning. 2010, 2007), 100

[2] Ibid., 294

 

 

 

01/20/17

Transition, Transition—How Goes the Transition?

Family businesses offer a unique opportunity to examine what it takes to transition from the entrepreneurial mindset of the founder to that of an established and complex enterprise. The oldest form of business, family firms represent the majority of businesses worldwide. Given that they are ubiquitous, one might assume their best practices are well understood. Yet most fail by the third generation.

One reason for family-business failure may be embedded in their very beginnings. While the founding entrepreneur’s decision to start a business may be intentional, the transition to becoming a family business may be less intention than something that ‘just happens.’ The entrepreneur starts a business, gets married and at some point has children. The children may get taken to work by a parent struggling to balance life and work issues. At some point the children start helping out, providing inexpensive labor, and ‘willy-nilly,’ learning the workings of the business.

Over time one of the children assumes a greater role in the business, eventually beginning to make important decisions. Another child may enter the business simply because there is a job opportunity. A natural hierarchy develops as the business calls forth and accommodates the capacities of each of the siblings.

As the children’s capabilities increase, the entrepreneurial founder spends less and less time working the business, and one day decides it’s time to retire. The children inherit the business with the condition and promise that their parents will be taken care of. A simple, straightforward transition has taken place.

Typically these grown children of the founder will marry and have children who become the family’s third generation. And here lies a critical family-business turning point.

When the time comes for this third generation to inherit ownership and control of the business, their parents look back at the transition model that functioned when they inherited. And it is found wanting. By now things have become significantly more complex. Not just siblings anymore; cousins are now involved. A new model of inheritance, role distribution and governance must be found.

Understanding this inevitable pattern is the first step toward a successful transition from entrepreneurial to multi-generational-family-business success.