How the family Governs the family Business

Putting the “Own” in Ownership

I am a big fan of the three-circle model and I have been since I first learned of its existence a few years ago.

As the story goes, it was actually derived from the two-circle model that preceded it, which was already groundbreaking in its own way because it was an attempt to separate the “family” and the “business” circles, while acknowledging their overlap.

When Renato Tagiuri and John Davis added “ownership” as the third circle, they had created a model that has stood the test of time for three decades now.

Ownership remains the circle that is hardest to grasp for many people, despite the fact that it sounds pretty straightforward on the surface.

People who do not have any relationship to a family business probably have a better grasp on the meaning of the word ownership, because anything that they own is likely pretty clear to them.

This week I attended an event where a woman from the third generation of a business family related that when she became an owner of her family’s business, she was not even informed until a year after the fact.

This reminded me of an event that I lived with my father many years ago. It was back in the 1980’s when CAFÉ was going strong in Montreal, and we attended a workshop together. In preparation, the organisers sent out a questionnaire to all attendees, asking for the percentage ownership in their family business.

My Dad had left this task to me, and I noted that he owned 67% of the company, and I owned 11%. He had set things up with two holdco’s, his, with 2/3 ownership, and his 3 children’s, with 1/3.

During the event, he saw the questionnaire that I had filled out for the first time, and he asked me point blank “What’s this?” I told him essentially what I just noted in the previous paragraph. “Oh, yeah, I guess you are right” was his reply.

Clearly he still considered himself the 100% owner, and I guess my sisters and I did too!

So ownership can be a little nebulous from time to time, and I know of at least one family business advisor who says that he only works with clients on ownership governance matters and avoids working with business founders, who so often have difficulty understanding the three circles.

A couple of weeks ago at the Family Business Summit in Halifax, I participated in an interactive exercise led by Doug Bolger of Learn2, who had the entire room working together and discussing succession matters.

At one point I had another “A-Ha moment”, and I always try to share those in this blog. We were discussing “ownership”, and then someone mentioned members of a younger generation wanting to do their “own” thing.

I had never realized that the word “own”, as in “my own” was part of the word “ownership”. I raised my hand and shared this realization with the group, and based on the reaction, I was not alone.

There is a new initiative being launched by the Business Family Foundation (BFF) this fall that recognizes that members of the rising generation in families seem to be more interested in doing their “own” thing more and more frequently these days.

They have created the “Initiative Intrapreneuriale” which will begin in Montreal in September, in French. As one of their “ambassadors” on this project, I would like to share why I think the idea behind this program is one “whose time has come”.

Intrapreneurship is not a new idea, many companies have benefitted from it, often without even calling it by this name.

What the BFF’s program is designed to do is to help spark business families into intrapreneurship as a way to get younger family members to join their family’s business AND do their own thing.

Enterprising families recognize that businesses have life cycles, and know about the importance of renewal. So why not encourage younger members to come up with their own business, and have it “grow up” within the existing family firm?

Sounds like a win-win proposition to me.