Leaving The Family Business—A Best-Management Practice

A recent Wall Street Journal article, The Truth About Failing Spectacularly* highlighted two issues I find not uncommon in family businesses: the value of experience and the rewards of failure. In today’s article I am addressing the first of these.

The experience connection for family businesses relates to the best-management practice that requires next-generation leaders to gain work experience outside of the family business. This practice adds value by ultimately bringing in skills and knowledge beyond that which had been fueling the family business up to that time. It provides third-party recognition of leadership abilities. It alleviates the concerns of non-family leadership about the value that then next generation can bring into the business. And it reassures them that they won’t be reporting to someone who doesn’t have enough experience to lead.

These advantages are absent when this best-practice is omitted. Working only within the family business can be insular and perhaps even incestuous. The door is closed to new knowledge and fresh ideas.

Attitudes differ widely with regard to these two practices.

I recently had a conversation with a young man who is second generation in his family’s business. His father is adamant that he should not work elsewhere. Respecting his father’s wishes, he doesn’t push the issue, though he would gladly accept an offer of outside employment.

Mindful of fostering sustainability in the family as well as the business, some families not only require ‘working somewhere else,’ they also require that a candidate son or daughter have the necessary experience for the position, within the family business, that they are applying for. This places the child on the same playing field as a potential non-family candidate. For other families providing opportunities for all family members is a priority, and this practice would be unacceptable. The more successful family businesses have found ways to balance these two approaches to next-generation employment.

In striving to achieve this balance, the axiom a strong business supports a healthy family is not to be overlooked.

In my next article I will go into the rewards of failure.

* https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-truth-about-failing-spectacularly-11550293225?mod=hp_lead_pos9



What’s Important At Thanksgiving Dinner

I recently had a conversation with a potential client that would eventually involve her husband, elderly parents and two siblings. The issue, as brought to me, involved transitioning the management of the family business from her parents to her husband. I learned that among the family members there are differing thoughts regarding the value of the business. There is also some resentment about her husband’s ambitions for the business. Moreover, her two siblings believe that their sister and her husband are taking advantage of their parents.

This situation is complex, yet not unheard of. In the course of our conversation we discussed how developing a clear statement of individual and family values will lay important groundwork for its resolution. We spoke as well of the importance of educating the family members about the systems that underpin the workings of family businesses, and helping them understand best practices employed by successful multi-generational family businesses. Most important though, in our conversation, was the question of how to convince the family members to undertake this education with the help of an outside advisor.

What is fundamentally important here? I suggest it’s family harmony. Will this family be able to sit down together for Thanksgiving dinner next year and enjoy the company of everyone there? If not, the business and everything and everyone associated with it are left in peril.