ARE YOU RUNNING A ‘BUSINESS-FIRST’ OR A ‘FAMILY-FIRST’ FAMILY BUSINESS?

Bernie Kliska

A question often posed is, “Which comes first, the family or the business?” If yours is a ” family-first” business decisions are often made that primarily benefit the family. For example, you pay family members more than their job pays on the open market. Also family members are guaranteed a job. If you are a “business-first”, you run the business strictly as a business; you require family members to get the education, experience, and other credentials to qualify for a job. And compensation is based on what the job merits. Whichever approach you take has long term implications. While there is no right or wrong system you may realize you may not be where you want to be. If you own a strictly “business-first” business you may want to ease some of the rigid rules that do not meet the needs of a growing family. For example if you have both a son and a daughter who are highly qualified and eager to join the family business, but you have only one position, you might consider changing the structure to allow both children to contribute. On the other hand, some “family-first” decisions that are meant to keep peace in the family may instead breed dissension among the next generation and threaten the business’s and family’s long term interest. Schuman, Stutz and Ward in their recently published book, Family Business as a Paradox, developed an excellent assessment to help families determine if they are a “family-first” or “business-first”. They also suggest, “One of the most powerful challenges in family businesses is managing the natural occurring tensions between the family and the business. Wise families know that the answer to this dilemma is to not choose one over the other, but be aware of the primacy of both”. Every family must decide what is best for them. Balancing both the family and the business goals require compromise, extra effort, extra planning and extra communication. The goal is to preserve the integrity of the business, while serving the needs of the family.

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