Family Business Planning

After graduate school my longest tenure, other than my 23 years at Advisa, was with a family owned specialty printer.  It survived my tenure, but went out of business last year.  That company is the impetus of this post.

I worked for them for 9 years and loved most of it.  I admired the owner’s ability to gather his children around him in the business.  He was a great leader.  His son-in-law ran one division, another son ran the main company after the dad retired and the second son-in-law was, for a time, also in senior management.  The owner’s brother was the sales manager of their most important territory.  Someday, I thought, when I have my business, I’ll run it just like this – keeping my family close and making the running of the business not only fun, but filled with familial love.

It took a couple of years working in the business to change that opinion.

While one son-in-law was very good as division CEO, the son was incompetent and eventually had to be relieved of his duties.  The second son-in-law and his wife divorced, bringing a messy situation from the home into the business.  The son eventually came back into the business and brought about its’ eventual demise.  Talk about trouble in paradise.  I don’t know how all of this played over family dinner on Sunday, but I can’t help but think there aren’t as many of those as there used to be when things in the business were good.

My kids were very young when I started Advisa but by this time I had no illusions.  I knew that “family business planning” within my organization would start with asking the question, “Would working at Advisa be something that would make sense for any of my sons (I have no daughters) and would it make sense for the business?”  No amount of employee development programs or leadership development efforts we could craft would overcome a poor fit between my kids and the work.

I watched and waited.  I had the insight of advising hundreds of clients going through family business planning situations of their own.  Our boys developed their own special skills and talents – which didn’t necessarily match with what the business does.  When introduced to P. I.® in late high school, they all found its insight tremendously valuable.   Truth was that none of the boys were well suited to play a key role in or to manage at Advisa.

And we’re all better off (in the long run) for their not being here.  Heather (no relation but well suited to the work) will be a wonderful successor to me in the business.  My boys will continue to be wonderful sons.  But, they won’t be a part of the business.  I think that was not only good family business planning but happy family business planning.  We’re all doing things we love; we’re just not doing them together (though two of the boys do teach in the same school).  And if we did them together, it might eventually drive us apart.  That’s not an outcome I would ever look to accomplish.

If you’d like to talk about your family business planning, please drop me a line.

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