Family Business Politics

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1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th Generation? . . . 

                                              

There’s no business

                            

like family business!

                           

~~~~~~~~~

                                                 

Nothing can compare. Quarrels, in-fighting, misunderstandings and manipulating. Pulling rank and playing of the grandparent or favorite son card. And, oh yes, the hidden card trick, where one never knows which in-law is behind which cousin’s back. Someone almost always does all the work, and someone else does almost none. Teamwork is often  just a facade. And no one dares to “jump ship” even when the engines seize up, the bilge pumps fail, and the deck is ankle-deep in water.

~~~~~

                                                                                                 

There are 30 million small businesses in America. My best guess is that at least half and probably two-thirds are some form of family business. Please correct me if you think this is way off base.

A husband or wife gets fed up with his or her job and quits (or is downsized out) and recruits full or parttime help from a spouse to venture out into some entrepreneurial venture. They work out of their kitchen or garage, secretly aiming to be the next Bill Gates. (But there’s always a little anger present.)

I’ve seen hundreds of kitchen/garage businesses. Here’s just a handful:

  • “Clear Windshield Wiper Blades” that prevent accidents in the rain (Uhhuh!)

  • Interlocking Plastic Bottles that allow twice the shipping space (But collapse the truck!)

  • A revolutionary new accounting system that questions you daily (Daily?)

  • The world’s greatest non-literary cultural magazine (Quite a feat!)

  • A never-before, unheard-of approach to leadership training (Maybe “proven” would be more desireable?)

  • A no-fail-no-lawyer-needed-do-it-yourself last will and testament (Who cares after they die?)

  • An online course: “How to Make a Million Dollars in 24 Hours!” (Right. Rob a bank?)

                                       

Or, with some good fortune, there’s an inheritance involved — staring you straight in the face. A business someone in your family launched (or carried over from a prior launcher), and now –voila!– it’s yours. Except you didn’t want it, know nothing about it, and have little choice except to step in and keep it going, at least until you can plan an escape!

Or, you’re simply buried under excess relative tonnage doing a job you don’t care about but that puts food on your table, and with the current lunatics in the White House, you just never know when some real job that actually suits and challenges you might ever surface (probably not until long after November 6, 2012).

Here’s the deal, spiel: If you are in a family business and everything is copacetic and chugging along to your satisfaction, God has been good to you. You are a rarity. Click off this site and go watch TV. Thank you for visiting. If you are struggling with a struggling family in a struggling family business, know, first of all, that you are not alone!

You must decide if you are going to stay with it and take advantage of the guaranteed job opportunity that very few people ever get, and make it work. Or pack it in. If you choose to leave , you owe it to those you leave to make it as easy for all of them as you possibly can. They have tolerated you just as you have them. And they’re family!

If you’re going to stay and make the effort it takes to get things moving, you’ve got to get things moving. You can’t screw around with a family business –any family business– in this economy. Make it go. Or go! Staying the course means reassessing where you are and how realistic your goals are. It means becoming a sensitive leader.

You are not captaining an atomic submarine. There’s no need to push. Relatives move more productively when they’re pulled gently in directions that best suit each individual’s strengths. Charm and personality belong in the customers’ faces. Organization and discipline in operations. Creativity in marketing. Financial skills . . .

You get the picture. Be careful as you start any new exercise to go slowly at first and to listen carefully to other’s suggestions and ideas. Bring in outside experts when necessary and shop carefully for consultants and suppliers who show you that they think like you do and that they understand the sensitivity and trappings of family dynamics.   

                                             

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