It’s Just a Family Tradition

Working with family is both rewarding and difficult. Thanksgiving dinners turn into board meetings. The “boss” feels the urge to ask for favors they’d never ask a “regular employee” for. At the same time, your workplace can be a place of trust and respect that makes work/life balance not only possible, but essentially blended into one. Each hour spent at work is also time with the family. With proper communication and attention, the family business might be the very best way to live, work and play.

Once it’s singing like Hank Williams, though, you have to worry about whether you’ll get Hank Williams, Jr. Every so often, you have a one-hit wonder that leads to a Miley Cyrus. 

Harvard Business Review once proposed that a strong multigenerational family business had the qualities of a dynastic monarchy: 

  1. A clear line of succession. When multiple children in a generation have overlapping roles and skills, the generation inevitably divides the empire.
  2. Qualified heirs. When there is no obvious child to take over the business, the founder has to decide how to entrust their creation to a trusted employee, board or public markets. Alternatively, there’s nothing worse than a kingdom with an unfit king, or one who wasn’t properly trained in the business. There’s no faster way to lose well-qualified employees than to have a flawed Junior take over and run the business into the ground.
  3. Conquerors and rulers. A founder is a natural conqueror. They see underdeveloped space in the marketplace and begin to build something new. They create new products and new services with an entrepreneurial zeal that is staggering. When the next generation begins working in the business, they often offer a ballast in the form of legal, financial or organizational steadiness. They seek to create sustainable processes and systems that ensure survival. If the third generation brings back the conquering spirit, the now-stable core company can develop new territories and adapt to a changing environment.
  4. Respect for the past. Traditions and history are as important in a business as in a country. The Holiday Party should always be on the second Saturday in December, if that’s when it has always been. Summer Fun Fridays can’t stop when the P&L is analyzed and labor is out of balance. Keeping alive traditions through the years keeps a good company going.
  5. A vision for the next generation. Respecting the past is all well and good until the market collapses, technology changes the market for your products or consumer expectation is different than the past. A good matriarch knows when to let the company grow beyond her original plans and jump off a cliff because she has wings.

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