Inspiring Entrepreneurship in Family Business

By JoAnne Norton, Ed.D.

The early morning sunlight warmed the meeting room where the forty-five members of a large fourth-generation family business gathered on the last day of their family’s retreat three years ago. The room had a panoramic view of a pristine lake nestled among fir-tree covered mountains—a vista that easily inspired long-term visions and harmonious values.

Through a series of visioning activities the family members had confirmed that they wished their family business would last for many more generations. They were, however, faced with the challenge that their wealth was invested in mostly mature industries. After a discussion of where they were then and where they needed to be in the future, the family members divided themselves into special interest groups based on how best to achieve their vision. One group, composed of members of the third and fourth generations, determined it was crucial to find new sources of revenue for the future. To that end, they formed a special “Entrepreneurship Committee.”

Over the last several years the group has been exploring ways to grow and nurture entrepreneurs in the family in order to expand their wealth thereby ensuring that they can continue as an enterprising family. At next summer’s family retreat several of the successful entrepreneurs in the family have been asked to share stories of how they started their own businesses, what their biggest challenges and biggest rewards are, what has worked and what hasn’t. In addition, members of the fifth generation, who are high school and college age, will have the opportunity to work on an entrepreneurial project together, coached by some of the entrepreneurs in the fourth generation.

What’s so exciting about this family’s hard work to inspire and educate budding entrepreneurs in their family, is that recently released research indicates they are definitely on the right path to being a long-lasting family enterprise. In December of 2011, the results of the Family Firm Institute/Goodman Study on Longevity in Family Firms were released. Robert Nason, Thomas Zellweger, and Matttias wrote “From Longevity of Firms to Transgenerational Entrepreneurship of Families: Introducing Family Entrepreneurial Orientation,” which appeared in the Family Business Review (XX(X) 1-20). The researchers found that the key wealth creation vehicle is not the firm but the family.  Nason says families should focus on the sustainability of wealth, not on the longevity of a particular operating entity, and one of the things Nason recommends is emphasizing the founder’s entrepreneurial spirit.

If you are in a family business, what kinds of things are you and your family doing to encourage entrepreneurship? Please share your stories with us on this blog.

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