The Future Begins With Intention

An intention to be a multi-generational family business is a requirement for becoming one.

At the Family Business Mastermind™ meeting this month, one of the participants spoke about the importance, to her, of preserving the hard work her parents put into growing the family business. She and brother were witnesses to the building of the business and it was a very large part of their childhood.

She mentioned that although she and her brother are pursuing careers elsewhere, she has come to see the significance and meaning the business has to each of the family members as a common bond between them, in addition to being a resource that has supported them financially.

She recognizes also that a transition will inevitably come about, and there has been very little discussion with her parents about the future. Her hope in attending the meeting was to hear of ways to preserve the integrity of the family and the business.

She was clear that her intention, through the glue of the family business, is to keep the family bonds strong between her and her brother, and to her parents who founded the business, and to extend them to future generations.

Her intention will supply the force to help her clarify and expand this vision. She conveyed that she will continue seeking answers. It was heartening to hear.


Time Together–Indispensable To Family-Business Success

What keeps venerable old families together?
They are, after all, only as strong as the roots that bind them.[1]

The above quote comes from a Dec 30, 2017 article in the NY Times that I had saved because in it I see an important message for all family businesses—a message that cannot be repeated enough.

The article, Keeping the Family Tree Alive https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/your-money/family-business-wealth.html features descendants from three famous families: Sylvia Brown, whose family name adorns Brown University, Alessia Antinori who is a 26th generation member of the Italian wine making company bearing that name and Mitzi Perdue, heiress to the Sheraton Hotel chain, and widow of chicken magnate Frank Perdue.

For me, the overriding message is: members of successful family enterprises spend time together. Eating dinner together and vacationing together are examples. Time together helps family members embrace a common sense of purpose, create and sustain a culture of cohesiveness across generations.

It’s interesting to note that the representatives of the three families written about in this article are women. Women are typically perceived as the archetypical force for family cohesiveness. Considering that more family businesses fail because of family related challenges than business ones, the extent to which women participate in their family enterprises might justifiably be seen as a significant factor for failure or long-term success.


[1] Sullivan, P. (2017, December 29) Keeping the Family Tree Alive: Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/your-money/family-business-wealth.html



Family Business—A Three-Way Balancing Act

Open up a family business and you will find within a three-way structure of dynamic subsystems; the family, the ownership and the business. These three must continually adjust to one another to maintain balance among themselves for their own health and that of the entire business. What’s tricky about that? Each of the subsystems has its own set of priorities.

Priorities for the Family subsystem are:

  • Harmony
  • Unity
  • Acceptance
  • Loyalty

Priorities for Ownership are:

  • Dividend Distribution
  • Stock Appreciation
  • Control

For the Business subsystem priorities are:

  • Growth
  • Profitability
  • Market Share
  • Innovation

Set out like this, it becomes easy to see where points of contention may exist as the systems’ moving parts meet and inevitably impact one another; where family harmony intersects dividend distribution; where innovation meets control; where market share runs aground of stock appreciation…

These are a just a few of the many ways these three subsystems can become unbalanced, creating inter-family conflict, operations slowdowns, loss of profitability and overall damage to the sustainability of the business and the family.


Strategies For Presenting Change Initiatives In Family Business

When a member of the rising generation in a family business proposes changing some aspects of how the business is run, members of the incumbent generation may, incorrectly or not, perceive their initiative as telling them that they, personally, are outdated. That they are no longer needed and should surrender their leadership role. The incumbents’ reactions to this perceived threat can have a caustic effect on the business with reverberations felt by all stakeholders.

This situation is particularly challenging if the family has not developed a culture of conversation about the interface of the family and the business, whether about introducing innovation and change initiatives, or about the transition of leadership between generations. Conversations like these may be difficult, but if avoided the outcomes born of silence can be even more challenging.

If you and your family have established protocols for conducting conversations like these, you have taken an important step towards ensuring your long-term success.

Lacking an established protocol for conversation, a perceived threat can be diffused if a proposal for change is offered with care and tact, in a way that—by reflecting human nature—facilitates the incumbent leadership receiving it openly. Key elements of this strategy are:

  • Showing respect for the past while presenting a vision for the future.
  • Recognizing and acknowledging the vision, labor and accomplishments of the incumbent generation and those that came before them.
  • Declaring an understanding of the importance of the family legacy and the desire to carry that forward.

Since this tactic supports and validates the efforts of the incumbent generation, it may circumvent the perception of the proposed change being seen as a threat.

However, that the incumbent generation will eventually be supplanted by the rising generation is not a threat, but a fact. So for them a different strategy may be appropriate. It may be valuable for them to recognize that transitioning out of the leadership role does not signify a departure from the business or the family. They may assume new and equally important roles; as spokesperson, senior advisor, nurturing next-generation leaders, and passing on the family values and history.

Change, for better or worse, is of course inevitable. For the family that is prepared to embrace it, new adventures beckon for both the generation that transitions out of their leadership roles and for the new generations that succeed them.


Challenges To Creating Change Initiatives In Family Businesses—Two Kinds Of Practice

Recently I’ve been writing about the challenges of creating change initiatives in a family business where the older generation is in charge. One of Seth Godin’s recent blogs, Two Kinds of Practice, http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2017/11/two-kinds-of-practice.html touched on what I see as a critical aspect of this inter-generational dynamic.

According to Godin, in the first kind of practice, we learn to play the notes as written, coming as close to a specified standard of perfection as we can. Applying this to family business, we learn to conduct business as the generation in charge does it. Practicing this way, Godin adds, we can become very proficient.

Learning to play the notes as written is sound advice. It respects the past while helping to develop an understanding of the family’s values and why we do business the way we do. The business environment though, is in constant flux—today more so than ever. The successful business will keep an eye on the future and have a mindset that embraces innovation.

The second kind of practice Godin describes as being “more valuable but far more rare.” This he says is the practice of failure. “Of trying on one point of view after another until you find one that works. Of creating original work that doesn’t succeed until it does.”

Founders of family businesses sometimes forget that their know-how was gained from their own painstaking efforts that resulted in errors early in their careers; or perhaps are reluctant to return to those times of uncertainty and anguished miss steps. But when founders seek to maintain their own comfort by denying this process of learning by trial and error to members of the next generation, their actions may lead to a painful decline of both the younger generation family members and the business; a decline fed by an inability to adapt.

Some families build their businesses on the practice of failure as a value. For them innovation is seen as a key to growth. But they are rare. In the majority of business families, the natural conservatism of the generation in charge is at odds with the natural forward-thinking innovative attitude of youth.

These two sides for different reasons are often blind to each other. And being blind, a clear vision for the future of the business is compromised. At this point it becomes wise to seek the help of an impartial outside observer. An expert family-business consultant can help take the blinders off, reawaken the incumbent generations’ memories of struggle and failure, remind them about how they succeeded, and set the new generation free to do the same.


Challenges To Creating Change Initiatives In Family Businesses–The Middle Passage

One of the challenges encountered by younger-generation family members as they try to initiate change in their family businesses while the older generation is still in charge is driven by the psychology of the lifecycle transition experienced by the older generation at the time this push for change is taking shape. Jungian analyst Dr. James Hollis describes this transition in his book, The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Mid-Life.[1]

The ideas presented in Dr. Hollis’ book help us understand the emotions in play in the midst of this common crisis in family businesses. Inevitably, as the son—or daughter—pushes for dominance, the father—or mother—is concurrently undergoing a significant change—a ‘middle passage’—from the first to the second half of life.

A person traversing the middle passage begins to view his or her life as something more than a linear succession of years. One re-examines their life and asks the sometimes frightening—but always liberating—question, “who am I apart from my history and the roles I have played?” Many may find this somewhat shaky and perhaps even hazardous ground to navigate.

Dr. Hollis describes how in the first half of our lives—which in itself is a lifecycle stage—we come to know who we are through our social roles, work and psych reflexes.* Our task then is to attain sufficient ego strength to live independently and enter the world. Importantly, this strength is required in the second half for the larger journey of seeking connection and deeper meaning. What we need to know for this second half of life comes from what we learned from the first half, and the resources we have built within ourselves; not dependent on others or something new from the outside world.

According to Dr. Hollis, it is during the middle passage one asks anew those deep questions about meaning that all children ask—then vivid and compelling—but faded over the years. The middle passage begins when one is required to face certain categories of issues that heretofore had been glossed over. The question of identity returns and one can no longer evade the responsibility to answer it—again—and in a new way.

As the older generation struggles to traverse the daunting middle passage, their sons/daughters are entering the passage that Hollis calls the ‘adult first half.’ The clash of differing lifecycle perspectives can precipitate significant tension between the generations. The more conscious of these passages and the more they are understood by those traversing them; the more peaceful will be both their personal transitions and their intergenerational relationships. And following from this, the more likely the family business will be to remain vigorous and productive as leadership passes to the new generation.


[1] Hollis, James. The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Mid-Life. Inner City Books. Toronto. 1993

* Automatic reactions related to attention, decision making, learning, judgment, memory, motivation, perception, reasoning, thinking, cognitive processes, etc.


Father/Son Conflict—Hidden Depths

In the past few newsletters and blog pieces I have been focusing on challenges younger-generation family members meet when trying to initiate change in their family businesses while the older generation is still in charge. This is a significant issue in family business and I want to go a bit deeper into the subject.

While these challenges may not exist in every family, their occurrence is all too common and all too important to ignore. Exploring these situations, several trigger factors have been observed: levels of emotional intelligence, experiences of intimacy and connection in the father’s and the son’s earlier development, and natural life stages of father and son.

Note:  At this point, for simplicity, I am speaking about these challenges in terms of father and son relationships. And while recognizing there are important differences between sons and daughters in family businesses, I do not mean any of this to be relevant only to fathers and sons.

In earlier articles I have quoted from Maps for Men, A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses, written by the father/son team of Pyles and Pyles. [i] In it they point out that the overlap of family and business dynamics, unresolved personal conflicts, lack of trust, difficult interpersonal relationships, sibling rivalry, and generational communication issues are just some of the human issues a father and son must manage.

A good, intelligent starting point to understand these dynamics is to look at the family business and what it means to the father:[ii]

In his book Fighting for the Crown: the father/son relationship in first generation family enterprises, Moveed Fazail noted three vital issues at play within the father’s psychology:

  1. The business is a source of personal identity, pride, legacy, opportunity, and means of providing for his family

2. Fathers do not normally wish ill for their children, but they (fathers) can fear being diminished by them

3. Many individuals in the father’s generation have witnessed the rapid decline of their contemporaries’ energies when they retire, and cannot accept a similar fate

These issues are both subtle and complex. But knowing they exist provides a starting point for conversations that open them up, providing an opportunity for moving forward that respects both the father and the son.

[i]  Edward Pyles and Thomas Pyles. Maps for Men, A Guide for Fathers and Sons and Family Businesses. 2016. Westbow Press. p. 178

[ii] Moveed Fazail. Fighting for the Crown: the father/son relationship in first generation family enterprises. FFI Practitioner, Family Firm Institute, July 16, 2013.


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


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]


[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


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