A Lesson for Family Businesses from “March Madness”

David Ransburg
David Ransburg

You may not think of college basketball as a family business, but in a few rare cases it can be viewed through that lens. Take the McDermotts from Iowa. The father, Greg, is the head coach of the Creighton University men’s basketball team, and his son, Doug, is not only the team’s star player, but he is also considered to be one of the greatest college basketball players of all time. The Creighton team spent this entire season as one of the top ranked teams in the country, in large part because of Greg and Doug’s ability to work together effectively.

For those who are interested in learning more about Doug’s phenomenal career, there is an enlightening article in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. One of the passages from this article that stood out to me was the sentence that identified the key to their success:

“[Greg] and Doug have determined that the father-coaching-son arrangement can work only if family time and basketball time are separate.”

As you might imagine, it can get confusing at times for Greg and Doug because they not only have a father-son relationship – they also have one that is coach-player. And just as the different roles each plays in relation to the other can lead to confusion about priorities, goals, and ultimately cause communication to be difficult, so, too, can the presence of multiple roles lead to confusion within family businesses. While you may naturally think of yourself first as “Dad” or “Mom,” you must remember that others may also see you as “Chairman,” “Boss,” and/or “Majority Shareholder.”

Like the McDermotts, members of family businesses would be wise to be explicitly clear about the multiple roles that are played, even if it means occasionally creating separate time for each. Maybe this college basketball tournament isn’t “Madness” after all.

What are your experiences with multiple roles in your family business? How have you managed to minimize the confusion that can often come with these multiple roles?


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