sometimes you just need to say no written on a piece of paper

The Importance or Saying “NO” in a FamBiz

The Importance or Saying “NO” in a FamBiz

Family businesses sometimes get a bad rap because of the way they often do things less formally than a “more professional” company would.

The less formal nature of any business can be a plus in many ways, but of course it can turn into a negative too.

When they do turn negative, it’s usually because someone has agreed to something (i.e. said “Yes”) that they really should have said “No” to.

Today we’re going to look at some of those cases.


Summer Jobs

Quite often the children of the “boss” get their first real exposure to the business as teenagers with a summer job.

When a teen asks “Can I have a summer job?” the best answer is usually “Yes”.

The part where it can be hard to say No is if there are follow-up questions like, “Can I take Fridays off?” or “Can I take a couple of weeks off” or “Can I start a bit later than everyone else?”

If the job is to work with other regular employees who all follow certain rules, every time you make an exception for them, you’re setting a bad precedent, that not only affects your child, but also everyone else who sees the special treatment.


Full-Time Jobs

When you’re dealing with adult children, the idea of consistency and no special favours also often comes into play.

“Can I get a job at the company?” will often be answered with a Yes.

But, “Can I have the same pay as my sister for less work, because I have family obligations?” should probably be greeted with a No.

“Can I come in later, work from home most of the time, take Fridays off, etc.” are things that other employees see and if they become standard perks for family employees and no one else, these are huge morale killers.


The Other Side of the Coin

Lest you think that it’s only the next generation who ask for things to which the parents should be saying No, I’ve got a more drastic scenario for you.

This one also occurs far more often than it should, and it involves the parents taking advantage of their kids.

Picture the daughter and/or son, who have been diligently working for the family business for decades, not only following the rules that exist for all of the employees, but going above and beyond.


Some Day this Will All Be Yours

They work evenings and weekends, never take a vacation, and do everything that’s ever asked of them.

They ask the owners, their parents, for a raise or some time off, but they are rebuffed with something along the lines of “Some day this will all be yours”.

That can be an acceptable answer, for a while.

Five years later, when it comes up again, and the answer is still just as vague, that’s where the children need to be able to say NO.


When Exactly IS “Some Day”?

At some point, some clarity, especially around the “when”, is needed. But just because you want clarity, and even need clarity, that doesn’t mean that you automatically get clarity.

Sometimes you need to demand it. And that begins with a firm NO.

As I write this, I’m picturing the old sitcom plot where the mother is tired of being taken for granted and decides to go “on strike”, and finally the husband and kids realize how lucky they are to have Mom around taking care of so many things.


Respect the Interdependence 

As the years and decades go by and family members age and grow into new roles that fit their evolving life stages, the “power balance” shifts.

The people and the roles are very much interdependent all the way through, but the nature of that interdependence changes too.

It’s usually so gradual and incremental that you barely notice it, but it is happening. Sometimes you need to take the time to stop and notice and decide that the way things have been going doesn’t work anymore.

In this circumstance the “NO” is not necessarily the answer to a question, it’s more of a statement.


NO, I’m Not Settling for That Anymore

Many people get to the point where they feel this way. Not all of them have the courage to make the statement though.

I’m not saying that it’s easy, but at some point it needs to be said.

Informal Authority in Family Business

Informal Authority in Family Business

I like writing about aspects of family business that sometimes get overlooked “in real life”.

Some subjects that you can learn about in business school work OK in most places, but somehow, when looking at a family business, things aren’t that way at all.


The Standard Org Chart

Nowhere is this more apparent than with a document that you’ll find in just about any company, the good old organization chart.

There are usually lots of rectangles, connected together by lines, and often looking a bit like a pyramid.

Simple enough, “this person is in charge of this department”, “these people report to this person”, “those department heads in turn report to this VP”, you know what I’m talking about.


The FamBiz Org Chart

A family business, especially early on in its lifespan, may not even have an org chart.

When someone finally insists on creating one, the founder may not like it and may even ignore it.

Eventually, as the company grows, they’ll reluctantly agree that one is needed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll respect it.


Respect My Authority!

The person at the top of the chart will often simply prefer to rely on the fact that they’re at the top and therefore, everyone else is below them and in turn reports to them.

While this is often factually correct, the reporting lines at the lower levels are there for a reason, and employees come to expect that those lines will be respected.

When the owner or founder walks into a department and sees something they don’t like, it’s pretty hard for them to bite their tongue and seek out the person below them on the org chart to relay a message.

In order to “save time” they’ll usually give instructions that the lowly employee feels they have no choice but to follow.


Giving Up Formal Authority

The good news is that while this type of scenario is rather commonplace, it is often harmless.

That is, as long as the person who’s giving the instructions is still truly the top person in the company.

When leaders step back, whether formally retiring or just cutting back to let others build their leadership, this can get a bit trickier.

The employees who are given instructions to do something will ususally feel beholden to the oldest person, and do as they say.

But what if what they’re being told goes against what their “real boss” (according to the org chart) has told them?


Formalize the Authority

One of the things I like to suggest to family business clients is to formalize the authority.

What does that look like? Glad you asked.

When a business leader steps back or steps out, it is essential that the employees know who is now in charge.

There are several ways to do this, and it may be best to use more than one:


          – Leadership Handover Ceremony

A formal ceremony in front of the employees, during which the outgoing leader is thanked and acknowledged.


          – Bulletin Board or Newsletter

A written message posted on a company bulletin board and sent to employees via a regular newsletter publication.


          – A Simple Email to Employees

If there is no newsletter, an email explaining the changes at the top, with appropriate thanks and best wishes.


Culture and Leadership from the Top

The new leader needs to be able to put their cultural stamp on things, and it’s next to impossible for them to do so unless and until the former leader has officially stepped aside.

“Officially” is a big word, though, so it’s important that both parties, the one leaving and the one coming in, be part of any such announcement.

The more people who witness it, the better. This is why I have a strong preference for the ceremony.


Group Decision, for the Good of the Group

For all employees to be able to buy into the new reality, it needs to appear to be a joint decision, and not any sort of “coup” or forced take-over.

The outgoing leader will hopefully see this as “closure” and resist the temptation to return to a leading role.

If a support role can be identified for the outgoing leader, to still retain some presence (at a much lower official level) that can also be good.


Clarity is Key

Few things in any organization are more important that clarity. Clear lines of authority are a must.

Animal shadows on a white background

“Clunky Ownership Syndrome” in Family Business

“Clunky Ownership Syndrome” in Family Business

Ownership usually doesn’t get much attention in the area of family business, and there are many reasons for that, and we’ll get to some.

Maybe I’m emphasizing it too much. I did a quick search of my website ( and found that I’ve already written 3 blogs with “ownership” in the title.

Everything is relative, though, and even with this fourth blog on the subject, that’s less than one blog a year about this “forgotten” circle. (see: Ownership: the Forgotten Circle of Family Business)


Status Quo That Lasts

The people who own a business have certain privileges that come with ownership, but with those, there are also responsibilities.

Most people who work for a family business know who the owners are, and they’re usually given certain deference.

The owners, in turn, try not to act like superior overlords, and this dance can continue for decades, as long as nothing changes.


Fast Moving World

While ownership remains fixed over time, the two other “circles”, family and business, are constantly in flux.

The business evolves, new products are launched, new locations opened, expansions bring in new employees, and new markets are developed.

Financial results are compiled monthly and quarterly.

The family also changes, as members find partners and have children, people get educated and find their passions, some join the business, and everyone grows older every year.

Oh, and some die.

Things are constantly evolving, and changes are part of life, and these days things seem to move more quickly than ever.

Yet ownership usually stays fixed, and rarely even gets a second thought.


Clunky by Definition

I chose the word “clunky” to describe the situation because it felt like the right word, and I’ve used it to explain this to people in the past.

Searching to find an appropriate image for this post, I almost had second thoughts, as the photo choices for “clunky” were mostly 1980’s cellphones.

(I went “outside the box” a bit with my choice of hippos; not sure it worked (?)).

Then I Googled “clunky definition” and I was immediately sold on the fact that clunky was the right word.

Here’s what came back:

clunky: awkwardly solid, heavy, and outdated.


So What? 

I’m not suggesting that ownership should necessarily change more frequently than it does; that would be stretching it.

What I am saying is that the definition above includes a couple of words that many family businesses should be thinking about much more than they typically do.

There are only four key words in that definition, so you can probably locate the two that are ringing alarms bells in my head.



“Awkwardly solid” almost sounds like a backhanded compliment. Solid is usually positive, but when it’s awkwardly so, well, maybe not so much.

Family business relationships are often already awkward, simply because family and business overlaps cause complex situations.

Now throw in ownership overlaps, compounded by the fact that things are stuck in the past, and things get even clumsier.



“Outdated” is probably the simplest word to describe the issues that I’ve seen regarding the ownership of family businesses.

It’s not hard to understand why things change so infrequently, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should just be cool with it.

Rising generation family members crave some clarity about their futures, but they often continue to put up with vague replies when they broach the subject.

“Don’t worry, some day this will all be yours”


When Exactly is “Some Day”?

Once again I feel the need to explain my views on this, lest readers get the impression that I think ownership changes absolutely need to happen more regularly and quickly.

I’m advocating for some thoughtful discussion and planning, and hopefully some transparency.


Transition Planning

As the business evolves and family members age, transition plans are contemplated to make sure that people will be prepared to assume their future business management roles.

Don’t forget that there needs to be an ownership transition too.



Do you really think it makes sense to think about those things as completely separate discussions? I don’t.

And if you ask those being groomed for future management roles, I bet they’d agree too.

Look 15 years into the future. People will be that much older, and the business will have grown.

If nothing changes, your current ownership structure will be pretty clunky.

Start planning those changes now too.

toy train derailing

5 Things that Can De-Rail a Family Business

5 Things that Can De-Rail a Family Business

It’s been a few months since my last “5 Things” blog, so this might be overdue.

While I usually deal in positives because it’s my nature, this week we’re going to look at some potential pitfalls that many family businesses face.

Let’s get started.


  1. Assumptions

The word “assumptions” that I chose here might surprise some, but I wanted a word that stood on its own, without requiring a negating adjective.

So while I could have said “Poor Communications”, I chose instead to look at what IS there, as opposed to what is NOT.

The reason many families don’t think that they need to talk is because they actually assume that everyone else in the family knows what they are thinking, AND that everyone is in agreement.

That often turns out to be wishful thinking at best, and hides serious misunderstandings at its worst.


  1. Bad Timing

Another issue that can de-rail things is that family members from different generations will often have different views regarding timing.

I call it “bad timing” but it’s really about poor alignment of timing, different priorities around timing, and just plain waiting too long to get started on things that are important.

The rising generation needs to step into roles with a long runway so that they can learn while the elders are still there.

More often than not, the elders hang on way too long, telling themselves that the “kids aren’t ready yet”.

That usually has much more to do with their own sense of importance than anything else.


  1. “Us-against-the–World” Attitude

Business families are notorious for keeping things very close to the vest and having great difficulty trusting any outsiders.

They often think that they’re the only ones in the world who have family issues to contend with as they run their businesses.

They wrongly believe that everyone else is “out to get them” and have trouble trusting anyone who happens to have a different last name.

This can be harmful in terms of attracting good employees, qualified advisors, and of course eventually outside independent directors for their board.


  1. Jealousy and Superiority Complexes

You had to know that I’d eventually get to something in the area of sibling relationships, and here I’ve chosen to label it as jealousy.

When there’s a lack of harmony in sibling relationships, quite often it can be traced to some jealousy issues.

And even when one sibling isn’t really jealous, sparks can come from what I like to call someone’s “superiority complex”.

I’m not sure if that’s even a real term, but I like to use it as the opposite of the more familiar “inferiority complex”.

When a sibling occupies a leadership position in the business vis-à-vis their siblings, it brings about some potential difficulties, like jealousy, for example.

A humble sibling leader will face less issues with this, than one who boasts about his relative place with his generational peers.


  1. Stagnation

Family businesses can become stodgy and complacent with time and not quick enough to innovate. Lack of foresight and getting out in front of industry changes can become a problem.

This often accompanies the bad timing noted above, where the younger family members know that things need to change, but aren’t able to convince the current leaders that changes are needed to be profitable in the future.


Wait, Where’s “Conflict”?

Just guessing here, but I assume that some readers may be surprised that “Conflict” did not make my list.

It certainly isn’t because conflict doesn’t exist in business families, nor because I don’t think conflict needs to be addressed.

Of course conflict is an issue, and it exists in almost every family business. But, in and of itself, conflict won’t de-rail a family business.

Unresolvable conflict, due to an unwillingness to work on resolving it, can certainly be a huge risk.

Likewise, unexpressed conflict that lays beneath the surface for years or decades has certainly sunk more than one family business.


Manage the Conflicts, Look Out for the Other Five

Conflict can be healthy (see: Embracing Conflict in Family Business), so I suggest concentrating on the other five areas.

No. 3, only trusting insiders, can be the biggest one.

Regular, honest, open communication is the best antidote to all of these.

Recognizing everyone’s interdependence is probably the “magic bullet”, if there is one.


What keeps you up at night?

Shifting FamBiz Time Horizons

Shifting FamBiz Time Horizons

Family businesses are known for looking at things from a much longer time perspective than larger, publicly traded companies.

They aren’t concerned with how their decisions will affect their next quarterly earnings release, and instead focus on how things will look in a quarter century.


How Fixed Is a Time Horizon?

The long-term view can stay the same for decades, but sometimes events occur that make changes desirable over a much shorter timeframe.

One of my continuing roles in managing our family office is handling the asset allocation to various professional outside investment managers.

We recently decided to divest one position and I was surprised to learn that there would be an early withdrawal penalty for not having held it for the 5-year minimum.

Hmmm, I wondered, why had I not noticed that back then (it’s been over four years)? Simple, at the time it did not seem like it could ever be an issue.

Things change…


Time Flies

In another sphere of my life, a couple of years ago I was in Boston with the family, and we went to the Harvard bookstore to look at their swag.

I curiously asked my kids if they’d ever thought of attending that school.

I’ve since done campus tours at most of the Ivy League schools, plus a bunch more, with both of them, and yet in a few months that important chapter of my life will also be behind me.

How could my focus change so quickly? It feels like just yesterday we were looking at daycares.


Teens, Seniors and the Sandwich

Maybe it’s just that I’m part of the sandwich generation, with two teens and an octagenarian mother who depend on me.

During those life stages, a few short years can change many aspects of one’s life.

But every family has people at various ages and life stages, and that’s part of why business families are so complex.


Family Life Cycle

If you read some of the books around family wealth and making it last over generations, you’ll surely come across authors who talk about “100 years” as a timeframe to consider.

I have to admit, when I first saw this a few years ago, I thought it would be difficult for most people to grasp.

Heck, I was working in this space, and I was having trouble wrapping my mind around it.

I’m pretty sure I “get it” now, but I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve become used to hearing it, because I’m a few years older myself, or because I’ve “matured” into a different life view.


Legacy Families 

If you want to learn from families who’ve been successful in transitioning wealth from one generation to the next, and done so more than just once, well, you almost have no choice but to look at those who have lasted a century or more.

At the recent Institute for Family Governance conference, one speaker mentioned that a 20-year investment time horizon for a family might be considered “short term”, and I agree.

But if I want to look at things that way, first I need to almost be able to remove myself from the equation.

I now realize that maybe the investment we were divesting shouldn’t ever have been made because it did not fit such a long time horizon.


My 100-Year View

Or maybe for my family, a 100-year horizon isn’t appropriate, because our family never quite reached the wealth level necessary to become a “legacy family”

Maybe another lesson here is that it’s easier to help some other family deal with these questions than it can ever be to look at this for your own family.

It’s really difficult to look at these kinds of multi-generational issues when you and your life are part of the equation.

It’s much easier for me to draw out your expected lifespan and matter-of-factly talk about how things will look decades later. Doing that for me, um, not so much.


Not Fun? Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Need to Do It!

Realizing that things are complex and potentially not fun does not absolve you of the responsibility to actually take care of important things, though.

Thinking about the importance of this is the first step to getting started. Now go and find someone who can keep you on track.

Then together you can take the steps needed for a true 100-year plan.

2 angry men facing opposite directions

Avoiding the “60% Problem”

Avoiding the “60% Problem”

A few weeks ago one of my “tweeps” (Twitter peeps) shared a news article about family business that quoted an interesting statistic.

The field of family business as a specific “unit” of study still being relatively new, there aren’t necessarily lots of stats to choose from when someone sits down to write such an article.

It seems like the same studies, usually decades old, have their stats recycled and re-used over and over again. But that’s a problem for another day.

Sixty Percent of FamBiz Failures

Here is a quote about the main stat from the story:


“Sixty percent of the failures were due to breakdowns in

trust and communication within the family unit”


I’d like to address the 60%, but first I need to fill in some of the context. The sentence before the one quoted above read: “A comprehensive study identified reasons why family businesses don’t last.”

If we wanted to add to the list of things that “don’t last”, we could add businesses in general, and of course, people, because we will all eventually die.

Okay, now that I dealt with my pet peeve on how family business stats are thrown around by some writers, let’s get to the good stuff.


Breakdowns in What?

Let’s look at the “problems” with family business that were mentioned as being the most prevalent, i.e. 60%.

“Breakdowns in trust and communications” is how it was worded, and I take that to mean “breakdowns in trust” and “breakdowns in communications”.

Of course one could make the argument that “trust and communications” are so intertwined that they are actually inseparable in this context, and I would not argue against that either.

The fact that they were “lumped together” in the first place sort of makes that point already. But just for this exercise, let’s begin by looking at them separately.


Breakdowns in Trust

In order for there to be a “breakdown” in trust, there needs to have been some trust to begin with.

Here is the presumed scenario: 1. There was trust; 2. It broke down; and 3. Eventually the family business was no more.

Presumably, if the trust had remained strong and not broken down, the business would still be around.

It would be really interesting to look at the details around the trust breakdowns, because I have some theories I’d like to check out if we could see the actual data.

I’d be willing to bet that the trust level between individual pairs of people did not change very much over time, because in my experience it usually stays pretty constant.

However, changes, over time, in the make-up of the overall group running the business, can certainly result in a trust level that gets worse.


Breakdowns in Communications

Communications breakdowns are often easier to see than trust issues. That’s because when the issue is trust, that fact tends to be kept mum.

When we picture communication problems, we may be inclined to think about screaming matches and altercations that people in the office can see and hear.

I’ve known some family businesses that are no strangers to these types of scenes.

But I think that the kinds of communications breakdowns that are at the root of family business failures are more often the silent type.

Sometimes the screaming doesn’t happen anymore, because nobody is even talking to anyone else anymore.


Reasons and Opportunities to Talk

The good news is that trust and communications issues don’t usually just show up one day. They are usually gradual. Why is that good news? Good question.

To me, if a situation is slowly degrading, there is an opportunity to address it and try to rectify it. Of course there does need to be a willingness to actually work on it.

Family members who are involved in owning and/or managing a business together have plenty of reasons why they need to be in regular communication with each other.

Sometimes they don’t create enough opportunities to talk.


Regular Meetings

My best advice for families that are worried about these “trust and communications breakdowns” is to schedule regular meetings to talk about working ON their business.

Usually at least once per quarter, key family members need to come together and air things out, so that things don’t get worse.

If you need a “referee”, find one. But please do it.


Link: Family Business: When business is personal – Smart Business Magazine

Women in a work enviroment

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,, accessed 18/10/17

[2] Imperial College Business School, Leeds University Business School and Durham University Business School, , 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.



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.



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”.



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.


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.



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.



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