Today we’re going to look at a couple of subjects that have been brewing in my head for a while.
I’m going to combine some elements of vocabulary and evolution, which may sound a little more arcane than what I have in mind. So let’s get going.
Family Business: Been Around Forever
We all recognize that family business has been around since the beginning of mankind.
Centuries ago, out of necessity, the family used to be even more of a “unit”.
As economies developed, they also became an “economic unit”, as it was natural for families and tribes to work together for their own advancement.
Business Families: More Recent
More recently, as society has evolved and as economies have advanced and matured, we’ve seen more and more “business families” emerge.
There often comes a time when the people leading a family business actually make a shift to thinking of themselves as more of a “business family” than simply a family business.
There are a couple of elements at play here:
- Prioritizing the family over the business
- Working ON the family, instead of IN the business
This shift usually comes only after certain success has been attained in the business that allows its leaders the luxury of time to make this shift. (Many never make it this far.)
Lots of family businesses remain a family business forever, and of course still serve a great purpose for their members and for society.
See my 2014 book: SHIFT your Family Business: Stop working IN your Family Business, Start working ON your Business Family
Enter the Family Enterprise
Once a family achieves a certain amount of success with their business, all sorts of possibilities open up.
From growing the original business into more geographic locations, to vertical or horizontal integration, to developing completely new lines of business, the combinations and permutations are literally infinite.
The common thread is often a family, for whom all this wealth is being created.
When a family is involved in more than just its original business, the term “family enterprise” is often the one that describes them best.
This can also be the result of a liquidity event, where a major business is sold, and the proceeds are reinvested into other ventures.
It can be very important for a family to get to a point where they can view any of their businesses as simply another asset that the family owns.
We’re getting into vocabulary and semantics a bit, but there’s a good reason.
Finding the right label for something is often a key to getting members of a group to develop a common understanding of who they are, what they are doing, and where they are going.
I mentioned off the top that we’d be looking at evolution as well. Let me expand on that now.
Just as a family can go from concentrating on one business during it’s family business stage, and then “evolve” into more of a business family, there can be a similar evolution to the enterprising stage.
These “stages” of evolution often take decades, and can coincide with generational transitions as well.
A recent edition of the FFI Practitioner highlighted a couple of case examples you may be interested in.
Family Firm Institute – Business or Wealth Focus?
In the same way that any family may evolve from one stage to the next, the organizations of professionals who serve enterprising families have also evolved.
The Family Firm Institute began over 30 years ago, and in the beginning their target was essentially family businesses.
In the intervening decades, they have also concerned themselves much more with family enterprises as a whole, including the world simply defined as “family wealth”.
Designations and Certifications
FFI now offers certifications in Family Business Advising and in Family Wealth Advising.
In Canada, FEX, through its FEA program, offers the designation “Family Enterprise Advisor”. Thanks to their “later mover advantage”, they were able to use the more holistic term “family enterprise”, which became more current in this century.
The common thread through all of these is the existence of a family with enough wealth and complexity to worry about.
Different Labels, Similar Issues
Families evolve from one decade and generation to the next, and the industry that serves continues to get more sophisticated.
Working together, we are trying to get better results for families everywhere.
And those who can figure out the family dynamics usually make out best.