Category Archives: Mission, Vision, Values & Culture

Family Relationships and the Power of Affinity

Michael Fassler
Michael Fassler

It never ceases to amaze me how family members in some family enterprises are able to function with relative ease while communicating and making decisions. Their ability to function this way results in uplifting family relationships along with enterprise growth and continuity. An observation about families with this level of functioning is that they have a high degree of affinity for one another – a natural liking for one another.

A high degree of affinity among family members is often not the case. This may cause family members to function with relative difficulty as they govern their family enterprise. However with deliberate effort the opportunity remains to overcome these difficulties. By family members rallying around some common purpose, they are often able to engage in rewarding family relationships along with growing and continuing their enterprise.

To begin, accept the reality that just because family members share the same genetics and grew up in the same environment, that does not necessarily result in a high degree of affinity. There is going to be diversity in beliefs, behavior, talent and interest among family members. Affinity is a natural occurrence, you cannot mandate or will it into existence. However, the following actions can help what affinity exists to express itself:

  • Maintain an ongoing dialogue to uncover (or discover) some level of shared purpose for working together.
  • Acknowledge one another’s contributions within the family and the enterprise as they are made and express gratitude for the impact they are having.
  • Through assessment and study, develop a basic understanding of your own and other family members’ behavioral tendencies. This understanding can lead to increased acceptance of other family members and can help you manage your own behavior as well.
  • Remind yourself that your family enterprise is a group of people working together. To be effective as a group there are times when self-interest must be secondary to the group’s interest.
  • Add structure to conversations and decision making whether they are in the realm of family, management or ownership. Both informal and ad hoc communication and decision processes can get in the way of productive interactions.
  • As your family and your enterprise evolve, know that evolving your governance process will contribute to rewarding relationships, growth and continuity.

And one final thought: Yes, when there is a low level of affinity productive interactions can be really difficult work. The pay-off is protection of relationships with family members you love.

Family is More than the Sum of its Parts

JoAnne Norton
JoAnne Norton

Aristotle said: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” a quote often used to describe families who own businesses.

Recently, a member of an extremely successful family business was thinking about the different inequalities in her family, now in its 4th generation of leadership. She explained that some family members had more money, others more education, and still others more creativity. I asked if I could share her eloquent and poetic description of her family’s circumstances if I respected her privacy by not revealing her name. She agreed that I could quote the following:

“For various reasons I’ve been contemplating the center of rose windows (stained glass works of art). The center is the still-point, the point of reference from which new ideas develop and their stories are told. If our family is a kind of rose window, our still-point would be shared values, and our unique voice. While our individual stories come with their own sizes, shapes and colors, all come with the potential to reflect beauty. And the rose window’s exquisite and ultimate grandeur may only be glimpsed when viewed as a whole, every part adding it’s particular glow/value to the still-point in the center. Even so, our values as a whole allow us to flourish, our shared values flow out from their center and we forget which pieces, by virtue of their size or shape, were ever considered ‘unequal.’ It is this we need to learn, or to remember.”

North Rose Window at Notre Dame Cathedral, Chartres, France, c-1235 photo- © Guillaume Piolle / public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
North Rose Window at Notre Dame Cathedral, Chartres, France, c-1235 photo- © Guillaume Piolle / public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Like the famous rose window at the Cathedral in Chartres, France, this family is more than the sum of its parts. Over the last decade, her family has carefully preserved their stories by writing their history, saving precious photos, making educational videos and listening to members of the third generation tell exciting tales at their reunions. They share great pride in their family’s many achievements and much laughter at some of the things that didn’t pan out so well. Family values and often-told stories give them a collective voice, and even more importantly, their shared values make the inequalities insignificant.

Profit: Counterpoint

Chris Eckrich
Chris Eckrich

The word profit invokes thoughts of selfishness amongst some, benefit amongst others, and a necessity in family business. While the love of money may be the root of all evil, the pursuit of profit is necessary in order to sustain any ownership group’s goals. But what role should profit play in driving behaviors of business owners?

Recently, I was confronted with a discussion in which a person shared that the only goal of business should be the pursuit of profit. When this view is taken to its extreme, employees in a company end up being viewed as replaceable automatons and leadership drives towards ever increasing levels of accountability to the point that a business starts to represent a slave enterprise.

One of the most rewarding experiences of my consulting career has been to experience the many ways that families approach earning business profit as an essential goal, but not to the exclusion of other goals they may have as an ownership group. One family ownership group may choose to organize their enterprise in a way where work life balance is of primary importance, believing that the essence of humanity is not either work or play, but a balance between work and the enjoyment of life in its many forms.

Another family may view their enterprise as an entity whose financial performance is critical to achieve their philanthropic goals outside of the business. A return therefore becomes imperative not just to provide a comfortable living for owners, but to further support their efforts to impact the world in positive ways – sometimes to the benefit of the business, but often times without any spotlight to gain publicity or benefit.

One other reason many owners are concerned about profit is to sustain their ability to keep their workers employed. One of our clients shared with great pride about a long-term employee who has sent two children through medical school while working for her family business.

In all of the situations above, the owning families could choose to focus on profit to the exclusion of all other ownership goals. Instead they see profit merely as a tool to achieving something greater than themselves.

When it comes to leaving a legacy, if the legacy consists of dollars alone it is likely to be an empty legacy void of any real purpose. The lasting legacy runs far deeper than money.  In fact, the families who pass on the strongest legacies rarely focus on wealth as their primary purpose, even though they may possess great wealth.  Instead, they seek to create an impact on the world through their core beliefs, business practices and philanthropic efforts.

Profit is just a tool to help them complete their noble journeys.

Lessons from Loss

Amy Schuman
Amy Schuman

My father, Harry Louis Schuman, passed away earlier this month. He was over 90 years old and in decent but declining health. Even at the end of his life as his circumstances became quite limited – no more driving, diminished mobility, many medical challenges – whenever asked how he was doing, his answer was always an enthusiastic: “Fantastic!”

Grandpa Harry Louis Schuman 2

All 10 grandchildren and step-grandchildren came to Chicago for the funeral, at very short notice, from near and far (including Berlin, Ann Arbor, Los Angeles, Massachusetts, Normal and Chicago, IL). Family, friends, colleagues and neighbors gathered for hours (actually, we gathered for seven days, the traditional shiva period of Jewish mourning), sharing stories and remembrances.

My dad speaking at the Palmer House with the Mayor of Chicago Richard J. Daley (left). He worked as an electrical contractor in the family business and became president when my grandpa retired.

Many useful lessons were embedded in the memories that people shared.  Humbly, I offer just three that stand out from this sad but grateful time. What did people most remember about their time with my father?

  1. His discipline and commitment: One example: my dad attended 6:30 AM religious services every Thursday morning, often waking us kids in the dark to take us along and treating us to a chocolate donut afterwards before dropping us off at school. It was tough to get going so early in the morning, but provided a direct experience of what commitment to a community really means. True commitment means stretching outside what’s cozy and comfortable, and discipline requires it be done on a regular basis.
  1. His non-judgmental presence: Many folks revealed that they had confided their troubles and challenges to my dad, privately, and he never violated their confidence. They described how he listened without judging, often without giving advice, just offering his presence and support. I have vivid memories of my dad pulling me aside as a child, sensing when something important was bothering me and offering me a chance to talk it through with him without him flooding me with instructions and advice. He trusted my ability to work out my own answer.
  1. His goofy fun loving playfulness: My dad loved to leave extemporaneous, singing, voicemail messages that most of the grandkids still have saved on their phones. He gathered all the grandkids for an annual pilgrimage to Popeye’s chicken, in honor of the fried chicken from his Memphis hometown. No Parents Allowed. (See picture below, circa 2009 or so. Unfortunately my dad is not in this picture, but my stepmom can be seen at the end of the table.)  My dad personally decorated the envelopes of birthday checks with multicolored exclamation marks and hearts — making the envelope as much a treasure as the birthday check inside.


This is just a bit of what we all heard, and learned about Harry Louis Schuman. Nothing brand new, or flashy, or even surprising. However, all of the modest, daily, steady, dependable and generous actions taken by my father throughout his lifetime added up to a mighty and far reaching inspiration, one that is alive and well in all of us who now aspire to make his example our own.    Heart

Does Distance Makes the Heart Grow Differently?

Brun de Pontet 100x150
Stephanie Brun de Pontet

While some of my clients have their extended family all in one community, that is more the exception than the rule.  Our North American culture is very mobile and it is common that young adults find professional or other opportunities that will take them away from “home” and may lead them to put down roots in new cities and states.

This leads to a few common challenges for enterprising families. First, family members who grow up in the home community of the family’s business are raised with the visibility of being affiliated with the owning family in a way that is less central to the experience of those growing up elsewhere.  This can be a burden if it leads to a lot of negative attention (e.g, if the company has layoffs that affect your neighbors) or if it casts you in a stereotypical and narrow role: “Oh, he’s from THAT family.”  Family members who grow up away from this limelight may not always appreciate the extent to which this facet of the family can dominate one’s broader community and growing up experience.

Another difference is that family members who grow up in the home community are more likely to have parents working in the business, which can also impact their sense of connection. I have seen cases where this leads the next generation to feel a deeper connection to the business because they know executives, attend company holiday events, regularly visit the offices, etc.; and others where they feel less connected because in their mind: “that is what mom does” and is inherently something from which they want a little distance.

Of course, the impact of growing up elsewhere can also lead to feelings of distance or closeness. I have observed that if the initial generation that moved away has a negative attitude about the enterprise, their kids are likely to grow up disinterested and detached.  On the other hand, if the parent’s generation feels connected to the legacy and engaged as owners, their kids often grow up deeply curious and eager to learn as much as they can about the business.

Finally, the other place where family geography can lead to different perspectives is around the family and business’s shared philanthropy.  While most family members understand that a significant proportion of family giving may be anchored in the community where the business is situated, those who grow up elsewhere often want the opportunity to also expand the reach of these efforts into their own communities. Getting a family aligned on how and where they want to make a difference certainly gets more complicated with expanded geography.

While you should not assume family members who grow up elsewhere are inherently less connected to the business – you do need to proactively engage them as committed stakeholders.  Strengthen lines of communication, nurture their interest and curiosity, proactively look for ways for them to interact with the business or business leaders, help them appreciate the challenges and joys that come from living and working in the home community, and expand your sense of what the family’s “communities” are and mean. These efforts help all stakeholders feel as strong a connection as they can to the legacy of the past and the vision going forward.

Employee Appreciation

David Ransburg
David Ransburg

I grew up in a family business, a sprinkler manufacturing company in Peoria, Illinois. My father ran this business for nearly 40 years, and I had the privilege of working in this business myself. While not every decision my father made turned out to be right, he made many excellent decisions. One of the very best was instituting an annual event he called “Employee Appreciation Day.”

Briefly, Employee Appreciation Day consisted of all office workers spending one day in the company’s factory or warehouse, laboring alongside the regular employees of those areas. This event served a number of purposes. First and most generally, it brought employees together for a full day, thus breaking down some of the structural barriers inherent to these separate functional areas.

Second, this day of direct interaction provided more specific knowledge that was helpful to all employees. For example, working on the assembly line allowed sales people to better understand how the products worked and to better appreciate the care that went into the creation of each item. Manufacturing employees could share process improvement suggestions with managers they wouldn’t otherwise see.

Most importantly, Employee Appreciation Day (which included a pizza lunch for all employees) strengthened the company’s conscious culture of cohesiveness and collaboration — a culture that provided the company with a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

What strategies have you tried for strengthening the culture of your family business?

Time to Get Away?

David Ransburg
David Ransburg

Years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting with a wise family business owner/operator named Tom Gulliford. He shared with me his unusual philosophy about vacation time: all employees must take a minimum of two weeks’ vacation whenever they take time off. His reasoning was that anything less than two weeks did not allow the employee to truly get away from work… which was the entire purpose of vacation in the first place!

Mr. Gulliford’s intuition has since been supported by many researchers.  (Click here for a summary of these studies.)   We now know of the many harmful consequences of work/life imbalance.

The constant pressures of business competition often compel companies and their employees to work ever-longer hours, so there’s no easy solution to this problem. Family businesses, though, can lead the charge. I say this because changing our perspective on long work hours requires a long-term perspective. While an examination of a particular moment may lead one to continue working, a longer term perspective will make it clear that occasional breaks are required. As is often said, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

And, who is better positioned to take a long-term perspective than family businesses? These companies – many of whom have lengthy histories – measure time not in hours or days. but in generations. This perspective allows family businesses to see an extended vacation not as a short term loss, but instead as an investment in the long term… an investment in the individual and an investment in the business.

Whether it’s taking the “Gulliford Approach” of minimum vacation time or some other strategy, how is it that your family business manages that long term investment of employee work/life balance?

Finding Balance and Joy in the “Busy” that is Life

Brun de Pontet 100x150
Stephanie Brun de Pontet

Busy seems to be the stock response to “How are you?” these days.

We all struggle at times to balance competing demands for our attention from family, work, community,and other commitments. Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by the frantic pace and lose sight of how fortunate we are to actually have so much going on in our lives.

  • Yes, children can be self-centered, create disorder, and put huge demands on our time… and they bring humor, new experiences and growth to our lives.
  • Yes, work requires long hours, difficult collaborations, and travel or other personal life sacrifices… and enables us to interact with other driven people, stretches us to learn new skills, and in a family business – allows us to know our family members more deeply than most.
  • Yes, community engagement can be frustrating, inefficient and hard to get initiatives sustained…. and they permit us to make an impact, change lives for the better and get to work with people who share our values.

The truth is, there is little in life that is really worth doing or deeply rewarding that does not require sacrifice and effort.  While we all need to make sure we carve out some quiet time and opportunities to take care of ourselves among all the responsibilities we shoulder, the truth is we are tremendously privileged to have these responsibilities. It means we are fully functioning grown ups, it means there are people who believe we make valuable contributions to important goals, it means we have love and joy in our lives….

The next time you are feeling stressed by your over-committed calendar, take a minute to smile about the richness of your life that is in fact evidenced by all you have going on.

Age and Appreciation

Amy Schuman
Amy Schuman

I turned 60 this summer. I feel as energized, curious and active as ever. But, I do notice a few significant differences.

A source of great pleasure is spending time with family. Sitting on the floor and trading monosyllables (mostly ‘Ga!’ and ‘Da!’) with my 9-month old granddaughter is one of my greatest joys.  If I had a choice between seeing a prize-winning movie, hearing an award-winning orchestra, eating a gourmet meal or feeding strained peas to the baby, I would take the latter without batting an eyelash.  Quite different from when, as a young parent, I longed to get out of the kitchen and away from the babytalk and mashed vegetables.

Professionally, a source of great pleasure is sharing observations and insights with colleagues.  Collaborating as part of a team in support of client success is much more satisfying than being a heroic (and more limited) solo practitioner, even if it takes more time and some patience. I recently co-authored a book on Human Resources in the Family Business (coming from Palgrave McMillan in November) with Wendy Sage-Hayward and David Ransburg, two of my FBCG colleagues. Learning and creating together took a bit more time, but it was fun to tussle, disagree, and thus synthesize new insights together.

And, it’s not like I’ve stopped exploring. My late-in-life interest in mindfulness has taken me to retreats in Germany, France, New York and California, and introduced me to a wonderful variety of practitioners from around the world.

I’ve been reading Atul Gawande’s wonderful book, Being Mortal. He talks about the changes that come with age — how people tend to focus more on what’s known and familiar, as vs. seeking new experiences and acquaintances. How people enjoy slowing down, doing less, going deeper rather than wider. He points to research that links this  —  not to aging, or decrepitude  —  but to a sense that the time ahead can be short, and that every moment is precious.

These pleasures, of course, are available to us regardless of age. We don’t have to wait for age 60 to appreciate our loved ones or our teammates.

We can take a moment to appreciate their presence at every age.

Ten Qualities of Successful Family Businesses

Drew Mendoza
Drew Mendoza

This week’s blog is an easy-to-grasp list of 10 qualities I’ve noticed about the underpinnings of high-functioning family businesses over the last 25 years. These are not things I made up. They are philosophies and guiding principles of families I’ve been honored to serve and speak with.

  1. Estate planning is NOT continuity planning. Confuse them at your peril. Estate planning is necessary but usually not sufficient. Continuity planning will include these critical matters: leadership transitions of the company, the board and the family; the rules that govern the board, compensation and performance measures; company strategy; shareholder education; and your vision and purpose for being in business together.
  2. Family meetings should help plan for future generations of ownership and encourage leadership, fun, shareholder development and meaning. If the meeting does not work out as well as hoped the first time, give in and go hire an expert to facilitate the conversations that are required. And, while we’re on this subject, another reason to use an outside facilitator is because it is hard to come across as neutral and objective when you’ve got a large stake in the outcome of the conversation. Being a member of the family, an employee of the business or a member of the board may skew your thinking and ability to seem unbiased to everyone else in the room.
  3. The family will need expectations aligned around many areas including their expectations for growth, risk, profitability, liquidity, purpose and policies like how we select leaders and who can be on the board.
  4. Salary, bonus and distributions/dividends are different. I’ve seen many a family co-mingle them in order to minimize or avoid tax liabilities. For families that intend to continue the business to the next generation, this is frequently the source of big problems later on.
  5. Have an appropriate, functioning corporate governance structure.
  6. Run the business and the board as a meritocracy.
  7. Beware of conflicted advisors.
  8. A leadership change will likely take five to 10 years of preparation and execution and another three to five years for the new leader to get their sea legs. All concerned must commit to hang on and work through the difficult times that sometimes arise. Remember that although we’re related, we usually view aspects of our realities differently from one another.
  9. The transition of the company’s ownership and leadership is a dynamic strategic imperative that will benefit from having the right foundational building blocks in place. Know your values and divine a strategy that reflects those values. Be honest with yourself and each other. Have thoughtful policies about compensation, the purpose of profits (in all their forms), the responsibilities and purpose of ownership, and be open to accountability.
  10. Be patient with one another and the process of transitioning leadership and ownership of an enterprise.

If one or more of these strike you as something you’d like to read more about, let me know.  I’ll be happy to introduce you to articles and books specific to each of these 10 points.  And, by the way, each of these points can be a discussion item for shareholder, family or governance meetings.

To contact Drew Mendoza, Managing Principal, please call (773) 604-5005 or email mendoza@thefbcg.com.