Bill McCurry is chairman of McCurry Associates, a consulting firm based in Princeton, N.J. He is a regular speaker at industry events like OFA Short Course, where he led discussions on family business this year and divulged strategies to bring older and younger generations together for common goals. Bill has advised many growers through difficult financial situations, helping them buy, sell or restructure their business.
One of your Short Course sessions this year was designed to offer parents strategies for advancing their kids in the family business, and another was geared toward kids and how they can become successful CEOs. How did those sessions turn out?
“Well actually, a lot of parents were upset that their kids did not get up in time for the 9:30 a.m. session. I said to the parents of these kids that they are naive if they do not take that behavior as an indication of how serious their kid is about the business. It’s not that the kids won’t continue living if they don’t attend my sessions. The point is that it’s important for kids to have a certain amount of knowledge going forward in the family business–and these sessions are stepping stones to acquiring that knowledge. These kids don’t have to possess every skill to be successful CEOs. The CEO needs to surround themselves with people who complement them. If the CEO has to have all the skills, then the CEO of an airline has to also be a pilot, a mechanic and a flight attendant. Obviously, that’s not practical. So what this process at OFA does is help identify the CEO’s strengths and weakness. First, though, we have to identify what a CEO needs to be. The process has to be objective, and that’s what we attempt to do with both sides.”
But what if these kids have other career goals and aspirations and want nothing to do with the family business?
“There are a lot of families and friends of family who say, ‘Oh, isn’t it nice you’re going to be the fourth generation?’ It’s not always that nice for every kid, though. For example, I met a daughter who had graduated with a degree in secondary education–and she’s now in the family business. If she really wanted to be in the business, why did she get a degree in secondary education? I’m thinking, ‘There is something wrong with this picture and everybody needs to wake up.’ The parent was totally oblivious, had a fully inflated ego and couldn’t see that the daughter had no desire to follow in somebody’s footsteps.”
So how do you bring different generations of family together to resolve their differences?
“Every family is different, and each family has its own issues. I met with one the other day and wound up saying, ‘Look, here are two family counselors who specialize in business environment.’ This family was not communicating, there was no respect and business was not going to survive because of that dynamic. There was visible hatred, and when that’s the case, you have two options: Sell and get 10 cents on the dollar because the thing is imploding on you; or, you can try to heal the family over. A lot of the time, it’s a Hatfield-and-McCoy situation where both parties really want to keep the feud alive. Sometimes, you’ve got to know when to walk away.”
What advice would you offer families with kids who recently graduated from college and are interested in working in the family business?
“No kids should work in the family business after they’ve finished their education until they’ve worked at least three years someplace else. The kids get out of school, the kids have to get real jobs on their own with their skills and they have to be gone for three years so they accomplish something on their own merits. Then, after three years and up to 333 years, they can come back to the family and get interviewed, if there’s a potential opening. There should be no full-time automatic employment in the business.”