If you work in agriculture, you most likely work with family-owned businesses. This is especially true within the greenhouse industry. I’m fortunate to work for a company that specializes in financing and supporting such businesses.
Family-owned businesses often have a level of commitment and support that helps during lean times. This is important for a company exposed to seasonality and events that are sometimes beyond management’s control. Business owners and management are constantly looking for solutions to the unique issues faced by these small but complex businesses. Specifically, how these issues affect the transition from one generation to the next. There are many family enterprise success stories, cases of harmony, health and longevity. Yet it’s no secret that family businesses can struggle with governance, leadership transitions and even survival.
According to the Family Business Institute, only 30 percent of family businesses last into the second generation, 12 percent remain viable into a third and only 3 percent operate into the fourth generation or beyond. Still, family-owned or family-controlled businesses play a key role in the global economy. They account for an estimated 80 percent of companies worldwide and are the largest source of long-term employment in most countries. In the U.S., family-owned businesses employ 60 percent of workers and create 78 percent of new jobs.
Good Communication Is Essential To Clarify Family Roles
When discussing corporate issues with family business owners and management, the two most important issues identified are also the most difficult to achieve: resolving conflicts among family members who are in the business and formulating a succession plan.
In my observation, there are three areas of potential conflict in a family-owned business: family member relationships, ownership and management. Clarity about each family member’s role within the business is critical, particularly when management is comprised of both family members and external leaders. When sharing and reconciling these roles among family members, keep in mind the following:
• It takes work, not luck. Successful families seek and get help and direction.
• Your perspective on any topic or issue at any given point in time depends on which role you play (e.g., dad, founder, owner, manager, employee).
• Communication is essential and should include formal structure. Successful business-owning families address communication issues with structured processes that promote, facilitate and ensure ongoing sharing of information, ideas, opinions, attitudes and feelings.
• Planning is essential to continuity. Planning in family business is more complex than in any other kind of business. There are multiple types of plans to be considered, including business strategy, leadership and ownership succession, personal financial and family continuity.
Some solutions are simple. For example, one technique when passing the torch is to make it an actual and symbolic shift by moving offices while staying in an advisory role. To provide role clarity when holding a son, daughter, sibling or cousin accountable, consider actually wearing multiple hats that say “Dad,” “Boss” and so on.
Other solutions are not so simple. For more complex situations, consider enlisting professional help. Resources are available, but they can be hard to find. Your banker or other financial service professional should be able to set you on the right path.
Wells Fargo hopes to offer a succession planning seminar this year at a tradeshow near you. Please inquire if you are interested.