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Lessons Learned from Women in Family Business

Guest blog from Kim Harland – Thanks Kim!

Lessons Learned from Women in Family Business

Family businesses account for 50%–80% of all jobs in a majority of countries worldwide.[1] And it seems women are leading the way, doing far better in leadership and management positions in family businesses than those in the non-family business sector. For example, 80% of family-owned businesses have at least one female director whereas only 17.7% of companies in the FTSE 100 have female directors.[2]

To celebrate the key role women play in family businesses, we spoke to a number of leading ladies and asked them to share their advice on range of topics plus give you a few tips on how to apply them to your family business.

 

What makes family business successful?

Across the board, all the women we spoke to felt three important principles underpin family business success – communication, a clear family vision and trust.

According to Lea Boyce, a key advisor at Boyce Family Office (5th generation family business), family businesses also have a crucial competitive advantage over the corporate sector – their nimbleness.

“While non-family businesses are busy having layers of meetings, a family in business has made the decision, got family buy in, done the deal and moved onto the next opportunity. As a result, they are able to be more entrepreneurial,” she says.

Another factor vital to family business success is the induction process for the next generation of family owners. On this topic, Priyanka Gupta Zielinski (author and executive director at MPIL Steel Structures Ltd, a 2nd generation family business), has some important advice.

“As you bring your daughter or son into the business, remember that you are unsettling an existing framework – things will change and you have to be willing to let them. It is important to let your children make their own mistakes. Sometimes their screw-ups will be of enormous magnitude – but remember, at least the worst is happening while you’ve got their back,” she says. “Whenever possible, help your children calculate and mitigate the risk without taking away their sense of ownership of the project.”

 

Your family business check-up

  1. Do you have a formal structure to allow open and honest communication as a family group?
  2. Has your family group articulated and documented shared business and family goals?
  3. Are you harnessing the opportunities presented by your next generation?

What’s the biggest challenge for women in family business?
Many of the women we spoke to believe the greatest challenge they face in business is the struggle to be taken seriously.

Lea says when it comes to families, patriarchy remains the dominant world view so when clients encounter a matriarch running the business they find it very confronting and challenging.

Priyanka feels that even in 2017, there is still a lack of role models for women in business. But she has an interesting idea for change.

“What is needed is a community of feminist men in family businesses who help women along the way by challenging the opinions of other men,” she says.

 

Your family business check-up

  1. Look for role models within your own or other family businesses.
  2. Consider a mentor – it is always helpful to work with others who have been there before you.
  3. Keep in mind that many women in family businesses can draw great inspiration from the men in their lives – their fathers, brothers and husbands.


The benefit of hindsight.

Everyone loves a bit of hindsight and when asked what advice they would give to their 25- year-old selves, our interviewees provided some excellent food for thought.

Looking back, Sara Pantaleo – CEO of 2nd generation family business La Porchetta – has this counsel for young women.

“Fight for what you believe. Gender doesn’t matter so just go for it. Don’t be mediocre. Strive to achieve. I sometimes see amazing, intelligent young women just accept things and I think that’s quite sad.”

Finally, Corrina, a 6th generation member of the Oliver winemaking family, suggests reflecting on one’s partner to see how they can help – rather than hinder – your family business.

“Recognise the key role your husband plays in enabling you to succeed in business and life – with support, not competition or jealousy, and contributing his share to the family.”

 

Your family business check-up

  1. What can you learn from the elders in your family? Ask your older family members the same question we did – “What advice would you give to a 25-year-old version of yourself?’ You might be pleasantly surprised at the answers and what they can do for your business.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these Insights from a few prominent women in family businesses. We have recently published our “Women in Family Business E-book”. If you’d like to learn a bit more about what we do, head over to our website.

[1] Global Data Points, Family Firm Institute, http://www.ffi.org/?page=globaldatapoints, accessed 18/10/17

[2] Imperial College Business School, Leeds University Business School and Durham University Business School, http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_22-5-2013-12-0-36 , Accessed 4/10/17

family Business advisor

The Future of Family Business is _______________

The Future of Family Business is _______________

A few weeks ago I came across something that appeared to be a news item about family business, so naturally it caught my attention.

It turned out to be some survey results about family business issues, as well as a promo piece for an upcoming conference on the subject, in Australia, at which the survey results were to be released.

The headline read as follows:

         Survey Finds Longevity of Multi-Generational

                 Family Businesses is Under Threat

It certainly succeeded in piquing my interest, even though the headline was a tad alarming for my taste.

 

Hold Off on the Drama, Please

If that alarmist headline wasn’t enough, here is the opening sentence of the “Newswire” piece:

             Will multi-generational family businesses

                           be a thing of the past?

Oh brother. Can we hold off on some of the over-dramatic, end-of-the-world talk, please?

Family businesses have been around forever, and will continue to be one of the major forms of business ownership well into the future.

 

The Real Story

I’d like to relate some of my views on this subject, because the story isn’t “wrong” either. I just prefer to talk about in more realistic terms.

Building a successful business isn’t something that is easy to do. Keeping a business successful over a number of decades is not easy either.

People love to ring alarm bells about the “failure” to complete an inter-generational family business transition as if it should be a walk in the park.

 

Who Wants to Take Over?

The fact is, today, any offspring who may be qualified to take over the family business will likely have a whole host of other career opportunities to choose from.

If the qualified children choose something else to do with their lives, then you’re left with the less-qualified ones, and I don’t think I need to go into why that’s not exactly a great idea either, do I?

 

Hard Work and Complex Situations

Working in your family’s business can be fantastic, when things go well. There’s nothing like working together with the ones you love.

But, as great as things can be when things are heading in the right direction, when you hit a rough patch, things can take a big turn for the worse in a hurry.

The family relationships bring a whole lot more complexity to the situation, and that can be difficult to navigate.

 

The Right Ingredients

When someone we’ll call “Dad” builds a business and then decides it’s time to retire, what are the odds that the best person in the whole world to take over from him just happens to be one of his children?

The recipe for successful transitions calls for the right mix of ingredients if it’s going to be successful.

There needs to be at least one qualified AND interested successor. And don’t forget about the timing. You need someone to be “Ready, Willing, and Able”

(Please see: “Is ‘Ready, Willing and Able’ Enough?” for more on this.)

 

Better Options Abound

We always hear about how the world is getting smaller, and it’s never been truer than it is now.

Qualified successors have more options than ever before. Taking over the family business just doesn’t rise to the top of the list of career options for that many people.

 

Instill a Love of Business

One of my favourite ways of talking to families about this subject is for the parents to share their love of business with their kids.

I’m not talking specifically about Mom and Dad’s business, I’m talking about business in general.

If you can teach your kids how rewarding it can be to run your own business, and how to do it well, then maybe they can find something that THEY are passionate about, and you can help them start that kind of a venture.

 

Intrapreneurship 

I’m starting to hear a lot more about “Intrapreneurship”, which just happens to be a natural fit for family businesses that are faced with a situation where the rising generation wants to be in business for themselves, and not necessarily in the same business as their parents.

Please see: The Intrapreneurship Initiative for an innovative program put on by the Business Families Foundation.

They’re starting their third cohort in Montreal now, and will be launching in Toronto in 2018.

This just mght be THE best solution for many families. And hopefully we can all tone done the drama.

 

 

Animals in a farm

Old MacDonald Had Family Governance (E-I-E-I-O)

Old MacDonald Had Family Governance (E-I-E-I-O)

Over the past two weeks I’ve been at the cottage trying to unwind and unplug a bit.

I woke up early one morning, and by the time I got up to start the coffee-maker, the bare bones of this blog post were already complete.

If you’ve ever wondered, “what kind of person wakes up thinking about family governance, while on vacation?” you now have your answer.

Because of the happy coincidence of the first letter of the adjectives I’d been dreaming about, this “Old MacDonald” blog was born.

Without further ado, here are my “E-I-E-I-O” of family governance.

 

Egalitarian

Family governance should be egalitarian in nature.

Family goverance is not the same as business governance. A business should be a meritocracy, where everyone’s rights and obligations stem from their place in the hierarchy.

In a family, simply being born into the family gives you a place at the table, and everyone’s place is more or less equal to everyone else’s.

So in the “family circle” governance needs to be much more “egalitarian”.

 

Intentional

Family governance needs to be intentional.

When I use the word “intentional”, I’m getting at the idea it doesn’t just happen by itself. You need to work at it.

Most families don’t “do governance” because they don’t need to.

If, however, your family has sufficient assets that are expected to survive the current leading generation, and continue to be owned by a group of family members in the next generation, then you absolutely NEED family governance

And you must also realize that it needs to be intentional, so you will need to work at it.

Evolving

Family governance needs to evolve.

This may not be the best time in history to reference US politics, but I’ll do it anyway.

The “founding fathers” came up with their constitution, which has served as the base of their governance for over two centuries.

But in the meantime, those who have been governing the country have amended it a couple of dozen times.

My point is that governance must naturally evolve over time. Don’t expect to be able to figure it all out in the first go around.

“Start where you are, use what you’ve got, do what you can”. And then keep moving forward.

 

Incremental

Family governance should be incremental.

It usually shouldn’t evolve in big spurts. A little bit at a time will almost always be better.

A family is made up of various different members (with a “quack quack” here and a “moo moo” there), and you can only go as fast as the slowest member.

Those who want to go faster will often lament the others who slow everything down, but they’ll also help the family from acting too quickly.

 

“Our Own”

The family needs to OWN their governance.

The governance that any family puts in place will be unique to that family.

It needs to be created “by the family, for the family” if it is to be useful.

Only by creating their own governance, will the family “own” their governance.

They cannot buy it, “off the shelf”, anywhere.

 

And On That Farm He Had Some…

Because there are so many creatures on the farm, Old MacDonald needs to proceed very thoughtfully and carefully.

He would be wise to bring in an outsider, preferably one who has some experience and training, to facilitate the development of the family’s governance.

When I said “By the family, for the family”, note that I never said “by themselves”, in fact most will not get very far without an outside perspective.

 

Intentionality of the “Project”

In fact, the outside person who is brought in also should also act as the “project manager”, and a large part of their role is to keep things on track and moving forward.

Family governance is not a natural thing, and it needs to be nurtured along the way.

If your family intends to successfully continue to own assets together into the following generation(s), you cannot ignore family governance.

There are all sorts of different animals in a family, and if you want them all to sing together, you’ll need to work at it.

Values of a family owned and operated business

Family Business: How do Values Fit In?

Business people often have a tendency to concentrate so much on their day-to-day business that they end up losing sight of some pretty important basic matters, like their values.

Values form the unconscious base of everything we do, and they impact so many of our regular decisions without us even realizing it.

Business consultants love to use “values” as a buzzword that they lump in with “vision” and “mission”, often without a good grasp of the differences between them.

This topic area is potentially very broad, so I will keep this post focussed on values, and I will look specifically at the role they play in family businesses.

 

What are Values?

Values are a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life”, according to a definition I just Googled, which is good enough for our purposes here.

A business’s values usually reflect those of the owners, executives and leadership. Some values that people brag about include ones that are so basic that they’re almost meaningless.

Any business that brags about integrity and honesty almost makes me wonder why they felt the need to spell those out as important. I’d hope that they were a given.

 

When Does This Matter?

Values are always important, but they’re usually running in the background and aren’t really noticed, until there’s a clash somewhere along the line.

I mentioned that a company’s values emanate from its leadership, and so the critical time to examine them is when anticipating a change in leadership (management and/or ownership).

A business built on hard work, collaboration and diversity won’t likely do well if the incoming leadership espouses none of those same core principles.

 

Why Are Values So Important?

Because values operate largely unnoticed or in an unspoken way, it sort of makes them the “operating system” behind the culture of the organisation.

A small group can run well without giving this much thought, but in a large or growing group of people, having some general agreement about the values that drive the group is essential.

People talk about alignment a lot these days, and rightly so. What they don’t always mention is that the alignment of values is really at the base of much of this work.

 

Family Values vs. Business Values

Now, you may be inclined to believe that business values should guide the business, while family values should just “stay in the family” and should never have an influence on how the business operates.

I would suggest that this type of thinking is not conducive to long-term success. Eventually, something has got to give.

When a family owns and leads a business, then that family’s values are important for the business. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a 100% overlap in family values and business values, but the more overlap the better, and ideally you want as much overlap as possible.

 

How Do We Get This Right?

Lots of consultants who work with businesses have tools and exercises that they use with teams in the business, to help them discover and align around key values for the business.

If your business has already done that, that’s great. But, please don’t stop there. And, please resist the temptation to bring the results of that business values work to a session on the family’s values.

 

The Values Two-Step

Any values exercise needs to have two components:

  • Individual values section
  • Group values section

These can be run one after another, or, sometimes better, after a break that can range from a couple of days to a couple of months.

Group values work needs to start with the individual values of the group’s members, and it needs to involve only those values of the members of the group.

 

Purity of Values

In a family values exercise, you may even want to do the exercise with members of only one generation at a time, so that the elders don’t unduly influence the younger participants.

Most importantly, do NOT begin with a list of values that comes from elsewhere, like the business, or the founder. The group values should be generated by the individual values of the participants in the exercise.

If the group values list you derive is to have any “value”, it needs to come “purely” from those in the group.

 

Take-Away:

Do the Values work, but take the time to do it RIGHT.

running a family business tips

Who Gets to Decide? (Part 1 of 2)

Last weekend at the Bowen Center spring conference there was plenty of food for thought, as expected, as we talked about family systems and how they also apply in other organisations.   (See A Systematic Business Family?)

There was also lots of fascinating scientific information presented about collective behaviour in the animal kingdom, and we learned some surprising things about how schools of fish and groups of locusts work together, subconsciously, to move about en masse.

Wait, am I saying that human families work the same way as fish and locusts do? Well, not exactly. But I’m not saying that we’re completely different either.

Family vs Other Groups

It’s also really interesting to think about how a family group is similar to and different from other types of human groups. Things we learn in the family realm are used in other circumstances, and things from other groups of people are used in our families.

There are more similarities than most of us realize and the same goes for animals and humans. We’re obviously the most advanced species, but our evolution surely followed many similar paths.

Leadership and Decision-Making

But how do groups of people and animals make their decisions, especially those that affect a group?

Leadership has been written about ad nauseum and there’s little doubt that it’s important to the success of groups. One thing that I’m starting to notice more is that the singular leader is becoming less of a phenomenon, and group leadership is getting trendier.

Authoritative and dictatorial styles are giving way to collaborative and consensual ways of leading. (See: Is Your Family “In Line”, or Aligned?) And what better area to look at these benefits than family business and intergenerational wealth transitions.

Family Business and the 3 Circles

The Three Circle Model has been around for over 3 decades now and while some find it too simplistic, I’m still a huge fan. (See: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment )

Each of the circles, Family, Business, and Ownership, are separate, yet overlapping, systems. By “system” here, I am referring to a group of interrelated people.

In a first generation family business, there’s usually lots of overlap and having circles with the exact same group of people is a real possibility. Even then, it’s important to make family decisions as a family, for the family, and business decisions for the business, as a business.

If you’re lucky enough to transfer the business and wealth to subsequent generations, things invariably get more complex. The family will usually continue to grow, and the business may grow even faster, especially by adding non-family employees.

System = Group of Related People

But you still have three systems, or groups of related people. Some will have formal leadership positions, with titles and clear roles; others, well, not so much. But why not?

In order to make decisions, a business has a CEO and an organisation chart, and formal roles and procedures. Should it be the only circle like that?

If there’s an ownership group, or system, shouldn’t it, too, have a formal structure, along with decision-making bodies and procedures? A shareholders agreement should contain most of this information, but is it actually ever used, and do the owners know what’s in it?

Last, and certainly NOT least, is the family. Talk about a potentially thorny group, and likely the circle with the least formal structure and rules. But decisions still need to be made.

All in the Family

So if a business is run based on some sort of formalized hierarchy and procedures, and an ownership system is subject to a shareholders agreement, then at least some governance exists for these interrelated groups of people in the family business realm.

Is there a good reason why the Family should be the exception?

Question:

Do families really go through the trouble of working this stuff out, “just for family issues?”

Answer:

Only the ones that care about their legacy and want to make sure that all of their hard work doesn’t end up being for naught.

Bottom Line:

Family Business is complex stuff, and “formality is your friend” when you want to ensure that that the transition to the next generation will be successful, because decisions will always need to be made.

Next week in Part 2, we’ll look specifically at the Family circle and take this to another level, literally, with “Who Gets to Decide Who Gets to Decide?”

Family Business Continuity advice

Is your Continuity Planning “PAL” in Danger?

This past week on Tuesday, at Noon Eastern time, as I quite often do, I participated in the weekly teleconference of the Purposeful Planning Institute. https://purposefulplanninginstitute.com

I’ve been a member of PPI since 2014 and will be attending their annual Rendez-Vous in July in Denver for the fourth straight time. If I could only attend one event each year, this would easily be the one. http://purposefulplanninginstitute.com/rendezvous2017/

 

Planning Fatigue

This week’s call was about “planning fatigue” and dealt with ideas professional advisors could use to overcome situations in which client families don’t move forward on transition plans as expected, hoped, and required.

Because the entire process is long and complex, clients sometimes lose sight of why they are doing all this work and things can begin to slide, and sometimes never get completed as intended. This can be a huge issue, and PPI is the only organization I know of that actually talks openly about this kind of stuff.

Every Tuesday PPI holds a teleconference, with a host and an invited guest expert. This week’s featured Timothy J. Belber, PPI’s Dean of Fusion, with guest Kristin Keffeler. They’ve collaborated on client family files in the past, which was evident, as they gave plenty of real life examples of situations they faced together.

These PPI weekly calls are all recorded and archived, so even when members can’t make it live, we can always listen to the recording later.

 

Three Major Classes of Danger

While discussing the problems of not completing a family’s planning work, Belber mentioned the three major classes of dangers that exist when things are not carried out to the end.

“Hmmm”, my ears perked up, “I wonder what these three classes are!”

These three main danger areas, can actually serve as the three major headings that we should be thinking about at every step along the way: People, Assets, and Legacy.

 

Checklist?

I wrote them down, and immediately wondered if everything could all really be boiled down to those 3 simple elements. The fact that I am writing a blog about it should give you my answer.

In fact, as someone who thinks in lists of 3, I will now incorporate these into an easy-to-recall checklist, but not necessarily just while thinking of “dangers” per se, but as important elements to always keep in mind.

I expect them to become a good PAL of mine and I don’t like it when any PAL of mine is in danger.

 

People

This one should be front and center, but often isn’t. When we are working with a family to make decisions on “what to do” in an estate plan, tax plan, business plan, or more generally “continuity plan”, I always think about how every decision will affect the people.

(See: http://shiftyourfamilybusiness.com/2015/04/12/successful-planning-who-should-be-involved)

Many professionals in this space are specialists in protecting the assets, and they do a great job, but sometimes the people are given secondary consideration (if any).

It should go without saying that when those people for whom we are making the plan are adults, it is wise to seek their input at some point. This is heresy to some, I know, but it is 2017, not 1977.

 

Assets

This element usually doesn’t get forgotten, mostly because it is the domain of so many professionals in the family’s sphere.

I won’t give this one too much space, save to remind you of one of my favourite expressions on this point.

“We spend too much time and effort preparing the assets for the heirs, and not nearly enough on preparing the heirs for the assets.

 

Legacy

This one is a bit trickier because it’s less tangible, but Belber also mentioned his way of thinking about this too, and I want to share it here as well.

He noted that your legacy is what others think, feel, and say about you.

If we try to tie a Legacy to People and Assets, exactly HOW you leave those Assets to those People should be pretty important, shouldn’t it?

If you worry too much about either the Assets or the People, at the expense of the other, your Legacy will surely suffer.

 

Conclusion

Maybe it should be People + Assets = Legacy?

Either way, I have a new PAL. He can be yours too.

 

  

Advantages and Dis-advantages of Liquidity Events

Liquidity Events in a FamBiz: Pros and Cons (Part 2)

Part 2 of 2 – The Cons

 

Last week we looked at some of the positive aspects of a Family Business liquidity event, so now it’s time to look at the other side. Longtime readers may recall a 2014 blog, Solid Wealth Vs. Liquid Wealth, covering some of this territory.

Today we’ll look at career questions, owners who suddenly “expect” to get “their share”, the leaky bucket syndrome, and family alignment.

 

Career Questions

When a family owns a business, many family members often have jobs and careers that depend on the company. A liquidity event will usually affect that in a big way, and typicallly NOT positively.

Even in cases where only a small number of people depend on the business for their livelihood, those people will usually be intensely affected by the change. Yes, a few people will likely still be needed to manage the liquid assets and other company and family affairs, but their roles will change, and not just a little.

Then there is the question of skill match. You have people you want to give a job to, and you have stuff that needs to get done. Yes, THAT skill match. How will that look after a liquidity event? Does your VP of HR child have what it takes to manage your investments?

 

Can’t I Just Take “Mine”?

Last week I ended the blog with a laugh, directed at those who “own” a piece of a family company who would like to have the ability to liquidate their ownership.

This week, I will turn and laugh instead at the person who controls the liquid assets and wish them good luck in satisfying a contigent of co-owners, trying to keep them happy.

If you own 10% of DEFG Corp., that’s all well and good, but try spending it.

But what happens when DEFG is sold for $XX,000,000? It’s suddenly tempting to try to get your hands on the $X.X Million that is “yours”.

Note that I used quotation marks because it may not be as much “yours” as you hoped or thought. (See Putting the OWN in Ownership)

 

What Happened to It All?

The answer to the question about “taking mine” is almost always “NO”. And that’s followed by an explanation about why the family is planning on keeping all of the wealth together, and will manage it for the long-term benefit of the family, including current and future generations.

The fear that these families have, and it is a REAL fear, is illustrated in the image that I chose to accompany this post. Most people won’t come out and say this, so I will.

If you simply take the liquid wealth and divide it up among the family owners, many of them will simply urinate it away. Okay, so I used a different word, but I am sure you get it.

That fear is very often justified. Is there a component of control and “I know better what’s good for you than you do”? Yes, and as long as the one contolling it can pull that off, they will be alright with it. The wealth creator can usually do it, but for their kids, it’s not as easy or obvious.

 

Family Alignment

“It’s hard to keep a family united around a pile of money”

I wish I could remember where I first heard that spoken, because it has stuck with me. It was surely said by someone who was preaching the benefits of family philanthropy, because getting family members excited about working together for some common good is one of the chief benefits of the establishment of more and more family foundations.

The subject of Family Alignment is worthy of much more treatment than I can give it here, and for those interested, you’re in luck. Please check out my Quick Start Guide on the subject. Family Alignment: What it is, Why you need it, How to build it

 

Liquidity DO’s and DON’Ts

My preferred style is NOT to tell people what to think, but to make sure they don’t miss out on things that they should think about.

Whether or not to pursue selling a business, or entertain an offer for one, is very personal and depends on a whole variety of circumstances, and timing is often a huge variable.

Thinking through “what comes next” for you and your family should be done before you sign the official paperwork, not after.

 

Family Business continuity

An Offer He Can’t Refuse

This week contained a flashback for me. I was a guest speaker at a University business school, five hours down the highway. There I was, standing before a group of students getting ready to soon begin their careers, much like I was “just” 30 or so years ago.

Invited by two colleagues/friends who teach “Managing the family Enterprise”, I had sent along copies of my favourite book, SHIFT your Family Business, so that the students could be prepared to ask whatever they wanted of its author.

 

Lucky You!

I began by asking the students if they felt lucky (no, not because I was in their presence). To my surprise, heads began nodding, even before I shared my thoughts about why they were in fact quite lucky to be sitting where they were.

I related my story of being in their shoes in the 1980’s, getting ready to work in my family’s business, but doing so without the benefit of a single course related to Family Business.

This was no slight to my alma mater, it was more about the timeframe. I explained that the Family Firm Institute just celebrated its 30th year in 2016, and CAFÉ (Canadian Association of Family Enterprise) also had its 30th recently. This “field” is still quite new.

I also shared one of my favourite stories about my Dad, who had joined CAFÉ in those early years, and his reaction to the great advice he’d heard from the advisors at those earliest CAFÉ events.

It was quite à propos in this setting, as these were undergraduate business students, like I had been at the time, many preparing to join their family companies in the coming years.

 

“We’re not gonna do that”

“You know, these people at CAFÉ”, I related my Dad’s words, like it was yesterday, “they say that you shouldn’t hire your kids right out of school, you should make them get a ‘real’ job first”, he said, as I nodded, hopefully. “Well, we’re not gonna do that”, he continued, patting me on the shoulder.

For effect, I acted it out with a student in the front row.

I also added that not standing up to him and questioning him, and not suggesting that I would like to pursue that option, turned into one of my biggest regrets.

 

Case Study: Corleone Family

The class uses one family business case for the entire semester, and this year’s choice is the Corleone family, of Godfather fame. “Cool!” I thought, as I learned this fact during a call with one of the instructors a week prior.

I really enjoyed doing “my homework”, watching the movies over the weekend so I could contribute to class. I hadn’t seen them in decades, and had forgotten how Vito actually stepped aside, letting Michael take over decision-making without second-guessing him, well before his unfortunate demise.

 

Family Governance

This class also featured a group presentation on Family Governance, and I have to admit that I got a kick out of the fact that the team used a quote from my book on one of their Powerpoint slides, with attribution, and my name spelled correctly.

Last week I wrote about the Queen and Prince Charles, and now the Godfather, what’s next? (Hint: more on Family Governance).

 

Should Have Refused

Back to the title of this post, courtesy of Vito Corleone, likely recognizable to most readers.

The reason I use it here is to underscore that I now recognize that the key word in the sentence is “can’t”.

More and more these days, kids are in fact refusing their parents’ offers to join the family business. To me, that is a good thing.

I should have refused too, but I didn’t. It would have been better for me, and actually better for the whole family, but it did not fit the shorter-term plan of the patriarch.

 

Love of “Business” vs Love of “My Business”

In response to a question from the class, I suggested that I strongly support teaching the “NextGen” about “business”, and even to “love” business, as part of “financial literacy” and to pass along the entrepreneurial family spirit.

But loving “business” and loving “this particular business that Dad started” isn’t the same thing.

Imagine if Michael Corleone had been able to use his great skills in the truly legit ways he had hoped, without the family baggage…

 

 

Succession Planning in Business

A Very Sticky Baton Indeed!

There was plenty of attention on Queen Elizabeth this week, celebrating her sapphire anniversary on the throne. I laughed to myself, thinking about Prince Charles and how he must feel. “Mummy, when do I get my turn?”

If you are unfamiliar with the “sapphire” anniversary, join the club, but that’s probably because not many people make it to their 65th anniversary of anything. Of course not many people get to be called “Your Highness” for their entire adult life either.

 

Sticky Baton Syndrome

Back in 2015, I wrote a Quick Start Guide (whitepaper) called “Sticky Baton Syndrome (ask Prince Charles)”. So this week when we heard about this anniversary, it brought back the plight of this ultimate “heir apparent”, who unwittingly served as my illustrative sub-title

I don’t normally write about the Royal Family, preferring to share my thoughts on family business and business families, but some overlaps with the monarchy are inevitable.

The Sticky Baton Syndrome piece in fact mentioned Charles in the title only, and I chose him because he is the best known “poster boy” for it.

I recall fifteen years ago, when the woman who adorns every Canadian coin and our $20 bill celebrated her golden anniversary, and part of me thought that she should take the opportunity to walk away on top, sort of like some people were hoping Tom Brady would do this week after winning his unprecendented fifth Super Bowl.

But alas, no, she decided to hang on, and who can blame her, well, besides Charles, I mean?

 

Empire versus FamBiz; Career versus Birthright 

Family Businesses are known for their tendency to look at things with a very long-term view, compared to non-family companies who often only look out as far as their next quarterly earning report.

Age 65 used to be the “retirement age”, but 65 years “on the job” is almost unheard of, and when we do hear about it, it’s rarely in a complimentary way.

So how should we look at family business careers and what makes sense? Well every family is different, and each family business leader is too. But part of my answer lies in the word “career”.

What if the one holding the baton thought about their role as though it were a career, rather than a “birthright”?

 

Different Strokes

There is an old maxim about a 75-year life, divided into 3 periods of 25 years, where you start by learning for 25 years, then working for the next 25, and then giving back for 25.

That framework can work for some, though admittedly not that many people can afford to stop working at 50.

This idea that reaching a point in one’s life where there is a shift in focus fits with Andrew Carnegie’s modus operandi as well. He is quoted as saying “I resolved to stop accumulating and begin the infinitely more serious and difficult task of wise distribution”.

A shift in focus is required, and not everyone knows how to properly prepare for it.

My book SHIFT your Family Business STOP working in your Family Business, START working on your Business Family is all about that shift.

 

Dying at your Desk

Some people will actually “die at their desk” and a percentage of those would not have it any other way. I hope that those who are waiting for those folks’ batons fully understand what they are in for, because “business succession via death” has never been considered a “best practice”.

Even the papacy may have finally figured that out, with Pope Benedict actually becoming the first Pope in several centuries to actually retire instead of dying on the job.

 

The “Ideal” Way to Phase Out

Here are some suggestions on what a good situation might look like:

  • Scaling back the number of days worked each week
  • Gradually delegating tasks AND decision-making
  • Giving up the CEO role and remaining Board Chair
  • A gradual transfer of ownership to NextGen leadership

If you can start down each of these roads over staggered timeframes, even better.

A key element reported by those who have done this successfully is that they have something else that they are excited to go to, and that they never feel like they are being forced away from their role.

What are you excited to go to next?

Family Business - Family Ownership Tree

Pruning the FamBiz Ownership Tree

Family businesses come to life in different ways, but their ownership structure usually starts out pretty simple. With the coming of age of the next generation of family members, things inevitably get more complex.

Preparing the rising generation to work in the business is a subject that gets talked about quite a bit. Preparing them to be good owners is also something that we are beginning to hear more about as well. All of this is good news.

But my subject today is based on a real life case, brought to my attention by a colleague. I asked her for permission to address it in this space, because I have not seen much written on it, and it can be pretty tricky.

Unfortunately there isn’t necessarily an easy solution, but then again, in the arena of family business, there rarely is.

 

The Case of the XYZ Family

My colleague and I are members of a “study group” of a dozen or so members of FFI, we come from a handful of countries, and it is always interesting to note the cultural flavour that comes with the stories we share.

The XYZ family is based in another country on another continent. X and Y are brothers, and they own their business 50/50. So far it’s pretty simple. Oh, one more important point, X is a silent partner, and Y runs the business.

I don’t know for sure but will assume that there is no shareholders agreement in place, likely because of the standard, “hey, we’re family, we trust each other, we will work it out” attitude.

 

Arrival of the Next Gen

The business continues along without issue, and the brothers start families of their own.   Y, the active brother, has a son and a daughter. X, the silent brother, eventually also has a daughter.

Just to add a bit more complicating “spice” to the story, Y’s son, Z, ends up going to work in the business along with his Dad, Y. X remains silent. Everything is fine, right? Well, for now, seemingly, yes.

 

Projecting the Future

So if you are Z, the son working in the business, what might concern you, long term? What issue keeps you up at night, to the point that you would raise it with your friendly neighbourhood family business consultant?

If you guessed “ownership”, give yourself a gold star.

The young man has likely already witnessed some of the difficulties that his father has had in running the business while being responsive to a silent partner, uncle X.

When he projects to the future, he sees a situation where he is the only family member working in the business, but his “silent partners” could be his sister, and his cousin.

If ownership follows the standard equal distribution among children that is the default in their country, he foresees himself owning 25% of the shares, and having to answer to his 25% owner sister, and their 50% owner cousin.

 

Sustainability in Question

When something can’t go on forever, it won’t.

Just to make sure we see the difficulty here let’s add another layer. Let’s say Z has five kids, and his sister and cousin only have one child each. And let’s say only one of his kids joins the company and runs it, along with his silent relative partners.

How would it be to own 5% of a company and run it for relatives who own the following shares:

Owner-Manager:        5%

Siblings:                        5%   /   5%    /   5%   /   5%

Cousin:                       25%

Second-Cousin:        50%

 

Thanks, but No Thanks!

Talk about a thankless job. Family businesses CAN last many generations, but those that do are the exceptions, not the rule.

We often look for whom to blame when they don’t last, yet sometimes just the way they are structured and the simple math of family division make it nearly impossible to make this work.

 

So Do We Give Up?

No.

We look ahead and foresee the potential issue, and talk about ways to resolve it. The brother owners need to realize that this can’t work long term, and figure out their next steps.

Assuming that Y can buy out his brother’s 50%, that would resolve a big chunk of it, for now, anyway.

They might even use a formula that Z will be able to follow to eventually buy out his sister down the road.

Bring it up, talk it out, resolve it before it kills the business.