I have never come across a family business that does not have to deal with complex individual family member emotions. This becomes more complex as the second and third generation are involved in the business.
Most family business with more than one generation, originally started as a one or two-person company usually with a husband and wife team or with one as a sole director. Sometimes it can be a combination of two siblings, and as time goes on, the next generation of family members working in the business include other siblings and cousins. As the family grows and the extended family grows, family leaders must learn how to manage and accept that each member is different and has different personal ambitions. They are never clones of the founders.
I have witnessed situations and been involved with a variety of family business where the family dynamics and individual personalities have been a major disruptor to internal harmony. On the other hand, I have worked with some who have found a way to keep the family emotional issues out of the business environment.
I left our own family food and beverage company at an early age, because my father and I had totally different ideas on how the business should progress. It turned out well because I went to another city and started a similar business and we shared resources. We just could not work together under the same roof. No one at fault, we were from different generations and had different personalities. Those who have achieved respectful family member relationships in the workplace are more successful with retaining key staff and enable better business performance than those who are in open conflict at work.
The success of any business is heavily dependent on positive internal culture. Employees are constantly watching workplace family dynamics and they tell me they don’t like it when internal conflicts come to the surface in front of others.
The Australian reported in an interview with David Smorgon on family business where he referred to fractured families. I have experienced fractured families in business and it is heart breaking. I have known family members who work in the same building to never speak directly to each other. Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence.
Where I have been able to generate honest and open communication with all individuals one-on-one, followed by a whole of family meeting, there has generally been a better chance of compromise for the good of the business. Every meeting has been full of mixed emotions ranging from nervousness, silence, anger, tears and acceptance. Rarely do they end in a walkout.
Bill Winter is a renowned family and small business advisor and facilitator of the hard to have family succession conversations.