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 members can provide the sense that there is someone watching who’s going to make sure the interests of the business are well cared for.
Third, there is the legacy perspective, the possibility of building something for the future of the family, a legacy that endures beyond the departure of the founding generation. At a certain age we tend to turn from trying to fulfill just our own personal wants and desires to thinking about our children and grandchildren’s futures. Can we be of help? Can we provide a platform from which they can work?
My old mentor, Arno, always said we all need “a platform to work from.” We need a place we can hang our hats and feel the possibility that this is ours, that we can build it and nurture it and make it something that just might benefit generations of our family to come. While there are no guarantees any business will survive for the long haul, experience has shown us that the corporate world no longer provides that promise of lifetime employment and security.
Having a family business can be quite a blessing for any family, but it requires a commitment to trust and communication, clarity of roles and responsibilities, and unity of goals and objectives. When these factors can come together for the wise and healthy family, the possibilities are unlimited.