Family businesses by their very nature are very diverse. No two families are alike, and the variety of businesses that they own and operate are likewise very different.
So as someone who writes a weekly blog that always comes back to families and how they work together, I think it’s normal that my inspiration for ideas to write about is also “all over the map” and quite eclectic.
No, this time it was talk radio, on a sports station. But for some reason, they had Larry King on as a guest. I guess he was in town for something and he popped into their studio.
“You Know What the Secret to this Business Is?”
Larry King was a long-time TV show host on CNN (1985 to 2010) and so he knows a thing or two about the broadcasting business.
He was chatting with the guys who host the afternoon drive show and suddenly he said, “You know what the secret to success is in this business?”
You could almost sense the anticipation as they waited for the punch line in the studio. As I was driving, I too was intrigued and awaited the next words out of his mouth.
“The secret is”, he continued, finally, “that there is no secret”.
And so it is, dear readers, with those of us who work with family business.
What Questions Should I Ask?
When I work with a family business or a family office, I try to steer clear of the business end of things. I do this not because I’m not qualified to help them there, because if I chose to, I know that I could add value there too.
I just prefer to stick to the area surrounding the family members, because that is where there is typically a crying need for some outside input.
But when I run into other professionals who also work with families, but who concentrate on business matters, they sometimes think that the work I do on family dynamics is something they could easily do as well.
It doesn’t happen that often, but sometimes they will even ask me for some of my “secrets”.
“So can you just tell me what questions I should ask?”
If only it were that easy.
Listen, Ask, Listen Some More
There are no “secret questions” to ask. It’s much more about being truly curious when you ask whatever question you choose to ask, and then listening to the answers.
It’s about wanting to find out what’s important to the family members, and I’m not just talking about the family member or members with whom you have your business relationship.
If it truly is a family business, then the other members of the family are also important. This is true even if there are some family members who don’t work in the business, and even if they are not currently owners of the business.
To truly serve a business family properly, you need to understand the family. And to understand them, you actually have to meet them, and speak to them, and get to know them.
This can’t be a secret, can it?
Regular, Clear, Transparent Communication
I was just talking about advisors who work with families, but what about the families themselves? Are there any “secrets” to success for them? Once again, I don’t think there are any secrets per se, just lots of common sense.
And in the same way I was telling advisors that they should take the time and make the effort to learn about the other family members and their thoughts about the business, it’s even more important for the family leaders to do that too.
But they surely already know that, right?
And nothing worthwhile ever happens without some planning and intentional effort.
Making an effort to instill regular, clear and transparent communications within the family group is a great idea, and always worthwhile.
More families should probably do it, and not enough of them do.
So maybe it still IS a secret. You can start changing that, now.
P.S. That “11-year-old daughter” in the Blaming Cinderella blog just turned 18 and will be off to college in the coming weeks.