Family Business: Dilemmas & Dramas


Family businesses are an intriguing proposition and an interesting dilemma.
Not always sure what they are there for, and often not sure how they should behave.

Of course, there are benefits, including unrivalled loyalty and trust (well, unless you follow “Succession” but let’s argue that’s not a family business, rather a business largely owned by a family); great leniency around time and commitments; the privilege of working with your children / parent / relative, and sharing in the spoils. 

At times there are downsides involving jealousy and betrayal – fortunately those have been few and far between. I’ve also seen the typical “first generation establishes, second builds, third destroys” play out a number of times; predominately because the boundary between family and business is never fully demarcated, communicated and followed.

Too often, hierarchical structures follow the family lines, or the family lines are imposed on the structure; muted accountability prevails; a blur exists between finances; the decisions around succession are rarely spoken of…

A family business that clearly recognises the operating spheres it lives and works in tends to function better in both of those worlds.

The challenge is to get the players to acknowledge the family interfaces and crunch-points of sensitivity. Then to start thinking as a “real” business – one in which there are external accountabilities and duties, where the “family” is still evident and strong but the entity has it’s own, rightful, presence and being.

These days I’m increasingly being asked to advise on succession in family entities, so perhaps the message is getting through?