Ode To The Family Business

May 16, 2013

Many people feel nostalgic about a family business. They dream of spending time with their loved ones everyday while also providing for them financially. They believe it will cement relationships, foster a positive sense of morale and produce a strong organization with people who all have the same goal. Not to mention lead to a legacy that can be passed on to the next generation.   

For some, this is the case. However, my experience with a family business has taught me that relatives and employment shouldn’t mix. For one thing there are the holiday dinners. Over turkey, three individuals are discussing the day’s sales, the problem customers and arguing about marketing strategies. They do this while other members sip wine and try to remember what there is to be thankful for.

There are also the complaints about co-workers. In a corporate setting, telling your spouse, sibling or even parent about a difficult colleague would be considered normal. In a family business, however, that is fraught with danger since the employee is most likely a mother, sister, husband, etc. of the person you are complaining to.

Yet family businesses exist and thrive

While the idea of a family business in my experience sounds better than it actually is, I do see some well-run vending companies in the industry. I can’t help but admire these organizations and the attitude of the people in charge. What is the secret? Is it a calm, collected individual at the top that has a strict “don’t bring your work home” policy? Is it employees that really do all have the same ideas and goals?

I was reading about businesses on the U.S. Small Business Association Website and discovered that these businesses (many of them family run) were thriving. According to a report in September 2012, in 2010 there were 27.9 million small businesses, and 18,500 of those firms had 500 employees or more. In fact, small firms accounted for 64 percent of the net new jobs created between 1993 and 2011. In a recent article by Reuters, Families edging out private equity in consumer deals, family-run investment firms were more successful than private players in part because they were willing to wait for longer returns rather than turning a quick buck.

What does all this mean? That family businesses are still an important part of the business sector and lead to job creation. It also means that some families need a rule book preferably written by those who have successfully navigated the pitfalls of working with those they love.