Notes From The Field

Notes from the Field: 20 years of coaching family business is a collection of articles written for newspapers, newsletters and presentations during Robert’s time in the world of family business. Whether you own, are heir to, or work for a family-owned or closely-held business, these articles offer insight into and potential remedies for the inevitable conflicts that occur when family wealth and family emotion coexist.

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Robert Caldwell

Robert Caldwell

Robert Caldwell founded Family Firm Resources, LLC more than 20 years ago. Since 2001 he has been the Babcock Family Business Fellow in the Wake Forest University Schools of Business. For 15 years Robert and his father Bob worked together in the family textile business started at the end of World War II. From that experience Robert began to understand the difficulties and rewards of working with family. As the textile industry moved from the U.S., Robert focused his work-life on aiding other business families as they dealt with the complexity, conflict and satisfaction of their business and personal relationships.


Robert has spoken and written on the unique interactions of family systems and business dynamics for many years. He is a graduate of Wake Forest University with dual majors in business and political science. His M.A. degree from Vermont College of Norwich University is in the field of Organizational Development/Psychology. He is a certified mediator and qualified in a number of psychological assessments, a former regional director of First Union National Bank, a director of the First Gaston Foundation, and holder of the highest district and council awards of the Boy Scouts of America. He is an avid musician, father of 2 children and 5 grandchildren. His new book is entitled, Notes from the Field: 20 years of coaching family business.

Love • Trust • Respect • Loyalty • Profitability

Mission Statement

Family Firm Resources provides guidance and perspective to owners of closely-held companies as they deal with issues of succession, leadership development, conflict management, organizational culture, and corporate governance.  Our work is always focused on improving both the effectiveness and the profitability of your company.

Clients Have Included:

Family and non-family business partners as well as multi-generational family businesses ranging in size from less than $1 million to more than $100 million in annual revenue. We have also coached not-for-profit executive directors and their direct reports in building more harmonious and effective leadership teams. In short, when people work together there are bound to be differences and conflicts that need resolution in order to perform at the highest levels possible. This is where we work!

Robert’s wisdom and experience in working with so many business leaders and environments has lent tremendous value to our focus on our company’s future.  Robert has been a trusted advisor for me on critical issues that, as the sole business owner, I could only share with a select few. Lauren Batten

President, Vandever Batten

Robert is a very good listener; he’s helped us peel back the layers of the onion on the issues we were facing.  The decisions we were able to make through the process of working with Family Firm Resources helped us enhance our bottom line substantially for years to come.  I might add that the communication tools Robert presented, especially the core values and the sibling code, help us every day. Ken Stober

President, Mueller Die Cut Solutions

I can’t say enough about how Robert Caldwell has helped my company and me personally. He has a keen insight into what makes a privately held business successful and how to handle transitions in leadership and strategy in a most sensitive, pragmatic, humor, intelligent, and credible manner.  His years of experience in the field are obvious. Bob Bradford

CEO, Innovative Driver Services

Words like sensitive, empathy, supportive, acumen, knowledgable, discernment, encouragement and wisdom all come to mind when I think of Robert Caldwell and his ability to help our company.  We have faced many challenges over the years, but not until Robert got to the heart of the issue were we able to take the steps to move forward and get back to business.
Teresa Rock

COO, South Sales Communication

Some of the questions we help you answer include:


Who is best qualified by interest and aptitude to take over the reins of leadership from one generation to the next?  What buy-in and procedural process is needed to ensure that the succession achieves its desired outcomes?

Leadership Development

What do new family business leaders need to better prepare themselves for leadership roles and responsibilities? How will they be coached, mentored and assisted during the pivotal months and years of succession?

Conflict Management

How are overt and covert conflicts handled in the family business? What is not being addressed that can damage the enterprise? What old grudges and current animosities need resolution in order for the business to move forward successfully?

Organizational Culture

How well do people work together? Have unproductive behaviors begun to clutter the effectiveness of the company? Do employees feel they are working at a good place with good people? Do people work with the highest good of the company in mind?

Corporate Governance

How will the family and corporate affairs be handled both now and in the future? What structure of family management and involvement has the highest likelihood of achieving the goals and aspirations of the current and future generations?

How we do it:

We use direct interviews to discover and clarify the themes and issues of the situation. We also use facilitated meetings, mediation, and executive coaching as tools to help our clients establish a firm foundation for current and future growth and stability. When necessary we have access to a network of psychological and organizational professionals to deal with especially challenging situations. Through our interview process with owners, key employees and family members we gain insights into what is going on, where changes needs to occur and how to best bring them about. We then help implement the agreed upon changes to reduce friction and enhance organizational and interpersonal behaviors.

How We Charge:

Normally, after our initial assessment and discussions with the owners, we propose a reasonable project price based on the estimated number of consulting days. We then divide that total over the course of our work together so there are no spikes or surprises in the payment amounts. Most clients find our fees are deductible as business expenses. If you’d like to discuss your situation, we can arrange a confidential call with no obligation.

The Human Side of Wealth Transfer

Last year a large insurance and investment company invited me to travel around the country delivering a presentation to financial consultants I call, “The Human Side of Wealth Transfer”.  After one of the seminars an attendee stopped me in the hallway and said, “You know everyone in the room was listening to you talk, but they were all churning inside because many of them are dealing with this subject in their own lives, not just in their clients’ lives.” During the next session I was much more aware of this dynamic.  I’d been talking to prior audiences from the perspective of their consultant’s brain, but really it was more delicate a matter than that since it deals with an issue that is up close and personal to them. Many of these men and women have done very well for themselves, despite the recent downturn.  Several of them spoke to me about situations with their own children.  One man who obviously had spent a lot of time thinking about it said to me that passing money to his only daughter was very difficult because of the life she was living.  From his perspective, and probably rightly so, he knew that whatever he gave his daughter was going to be money badly used, leading to an even unhappier life in her future. As my father used to say about running a business, compensation is the hardest issue.  So it often is in family wealth, bestowing unearned wealth of children or anyone not prepared for it is a heavy burden on both sides of the equation.  Here is what I advocate for... read more

Three Possibilities of Family Business

In a recent client meeting the business owner said he’d read a good bit of the literature of family owned business but “most of it focuses on the problems and not the possibilities.”  So, let’s focus on the possibility of working with family for a few minutes.  Why have people continued to work with family members even when it doesn’t involve all hands needed to pick cotton or run the blacksmith shop? What are the possibilities of working with family?  How can we learn to look at it in that way, rather than in light of the unhappiness and discomfort it might cause from time to time? First, from the human perspective, when a parent and child work together there is the possibility of growing the relationship.  My father and I could barely carry on a civil conversation with each other when I first went to work with him.  It was very uncomfortable.  But, he knew and I knew that there was something of value buried under the dysfunction that was worth trying to find and salvage.  Over our 15 years together we became dear friends and I got to know him as a man, not just as some childhood image left over to haunt my adult dreams. Second, from the business perspective, when there is trust among the family members who work together, there’s a sense that you’re watching each other’s backs.  Over the years many of my clients and friends who own businesses, including myself, have experienced embezzlement, theft and waste on the part of employees who felt no accountability or oversight.  A strong network of family... read more

Four Critical Aspects of Family Business

Recently I gave a presentation to a group of family business owners on the subject of “4 Critical Aspects of Family Business.”  The premise of the presentation is that most business owners spend most of their time driving the business and give little attention to other aspects of the business that can provide some nasty surprises if neglected.  Michael Gerber, in his book The E-Myth, discusses this fact and says in addition to working IN the business, leaders must also work ON the business. In my own business over the years we worked on the day-to-day matters of sales, supply, delivery, quality control, finance, personnel, and customer satisfaction.  It’s easy to make these the primary and sometimes only functions to which we pay attention. Over the subsequent years I’ve learned that owners also need to give consideration to 4 other aspects: governance, succession, leadership development and relationship management.  Let’s look briefly at each of these topics so you can see what you’re working ON, in addition to the necessary drivers of your business. GOVERNANCE Entry rules—what are the requirements for family members who want to come into the business? Codes of conduct—how are family members expected to behave and perform if they are accepted?  What are the penalties for those who do not perform? Board of Directors/Advisors—a key determinant of family business success can be one or two people from outside who can help give perspective and counsel. Family Council—is there a regular opportunity for family members, both employed in the business and not, to meet and express themselves?  Those who have no voice or say so are often... read more

Stand Up and Be Counted in Your Family Business

A great paradox of life is that we find it so hard to talk about intimate things with family members, yet, when we fly for three hours next to a total stranger we’re likely to walk off the airplane knowing each other’s detailed life history.  It’s somehow easier to vent real feelings on someone you’ll most likely never see again, than with a family member we fear will construe heartfelt expressions of feeling as weakness, and use it to our detriment. While it may seem risky in the beginning, the effect of honest communication in the family business is awe-inspiring.  It often contributes to the breaking down of old barriers, just as the Iron Curtain fell partially because of the radical advancement of communications technology; new ideas could no longer be kept from people.  Communication helps create a firm foundation for any business to survive and thrive. Hard feelings and distrust among family members may go back decades.  Instead of dealing with current situations while looking through the lens of the past, it’s helpful to keep reminding oneself that age and maturity can have a softening effect if we let it.  Sibling rivalry and jealousy can often be traced back to infancy.  Parental circumspection with an adult child may date back to a teenage indiscretion.  Generally speaking, people act in accordance with the way they’re treated.  If I’m treated as incompetent by a parent, then chances are that’s the way I’ll behave in their presence. One thing that led to my interest in dealing with family business was the observation of how we adult children of entrepreneurs continue to... read more

The Tripping Point

Malcolm Gladwell introduced us to the concept of “The Tipping Point” in his 2000 book.  He defines a tipping point as the “the level at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.”  We’ve all lately seen vivid examples of when a tipping point has been reached: the demise of Wachovia—who’d have thought that was a probability 2 years ago?!  The death of the house that Madoff built, unfortunately, as a house of cards that met the unstoppable momentum for change.  And 9/11, the defining moment of our generation, a time when the flattening of the world was consummated.  Such are but a few stark examples of the inevitability of change and the inability of anyone or anything to alter or deflect it away. There’s another point I use with family business clients that I call the “tripping point”.  Attitudes, behaviors, animosities, and jealousies have been swept under the proverbial rug for so long the lump can no longer just be stepped over and ignored; it’s so big now it will trip you up. Working with a client this week I watched and facilitated while two couples, related by blood and property decided the time had come to no longer jointly own an inherited piece of property.  One of brothers said, “Uncle Jake said there would come a day when this property will no longer be owned together by family.  I think today is that day.”  An inaudible sigh of relief, tinged with sadness, filled the room in that moment.  As so many families do, unspoken assumptions have led to hard feelings and strained relationships.  The good news is for... read more

The Fifth Child

A retired banker friend is now the executive director of a regional community foundation.  The foundation is the recipient of bequests from people who want part of their estate or wealth to be used for charitable purposes.  Recently a mutual friend of ours, a retired, widowed attorney, passed away leaving the bulk of his estate to his four adult children.  I’m sure it was a sizeable estate from his long time law practice and from his influential and prosperous client base.  As he was doing his estate planning he told my friend, “I’ve got 4 children and I want my charitable estate to be my fifth child.”  The concept of the fifth child as an inheritor is a compelling image. While there was no family business to keep the family connected around the wealth, our attorney friend set up a trust account in the foundation which the children would run.  This corpus doesn’t belong to the children, but by establishing the fund he created a vehicle for them to remain connected and to learn to work together.  Granting gifts to worthwhile causes upon which they must have substantial agreement is a great piece of legacy for a family; perhaps more valuable than the dollars.  Here is a connection for them that doesn’t involve their own money, and it provides them a way to continue giving for the benefit of their community.  It keeps them working together on a project of mutual interest.  Many family wealth lawsuits come from those who feel disempowered.  By giving voice and input to all family members a real harmony has a chance to develop... read more

Contact Us Today

Family Firm Resources, Inc.
968 Bromley Road, Ste B
Charlotte, NC 28207