Tag Archives: tradition

A Fourth Generation Leader who Mastered the Art of Embracing Tradition and Change

Amy Schuman
Amy Schuman

Successful long-lived family businesses find a way to preserve their historic values and traditions while, at the same time, renewing themselves and responding to opportunities in an ever-changing world. Firms that are too rooted in the past become ossified, out-of-date, and outmoded. However, those that shun past success as irrelevant to present realities squander a treasure trove of values and accomplishments. It’s an art to combine the ‘secret sauce’ of historic success with the imperative to respond decisively and passionately to emerging opportunities and challenges.

Baird GraphicThis fine art was exemplified by John W. Baird, who passed away in December, 2013, at age 98.

Mr. Baird took over as president in 1963, following his father, Warner G. Baird, who guided the company in helping Chicago rebuild after the Great Fire of 1871. The firm was founded in 1855.

As president of Baird & Warner, Mr. Baird was deeply involved in civic affairs and the preservation of open spaces and landmarks. In the 1960’s, he was a leader in the effort to end housing discrimination in Chicago, and, as president of the then-Metropolitan Housing and Planning council, testified in favor of ‘open occupancy’, housing made available without consideration of race, ethnicity, religion, etc.

His son, Steve Baird, currently the fifth generation company president, commented, “At the time it would have been considered a very negative thing to the company because it was going against the tradition.”

However, what was ground breaking and ‘non-traditional’ at the time, now serves as a model of civic involvement and integrity for the company, the family, and the city of Chicago. And in fact, was part of the ‘secret-sauce’ that enabled this Chicago institution to survive and thrive up to this day.

There is much more to learn from the example of John W. Baird, who serves as an inspiration to others seeking success in leading their long-lived family firms. A quick web search will yield many links to articles, obituaries and tributes that are full of useful lessons – worthy of further reading and exploration.

*This article is drawn from obituaries and articles that appeared in The Chicago Sun Times, The Chicago Tribune, and online at INMAN NEWS.


Protecting Family Traditions

Chris Eckrich
Chris Eckrich

Business owning families know about hard work and dedication.  It is not unusual to spend 50-70 hours a week at work only to come home and talk shop with loved ones.  Many families report that business discussions end up eating into their personal time so much that they miss the opportunity to just be family.  While we frequently encouraged boundaries to be drawn on activities, there is one place in which business discussion absolutely does not belong at the table and that is during important family traditions.

Traditions are a way that the family honors itself and future generations by gathering to celebrate an important aspect of the family.  A July 4th celebration might signify the family’s deep appreciation for freedom.  A Christmas or Hanukah celebration might represent the family’s deep beliefs in their faith.  A tradition of an annual family vacation might represent the family’s commitment to nurture itself over time.  These activities are to be revered in the family and should be protected as an inclusive activity for all family members, regardless of whether one works in the business.  Business dialogue during these sacred activities deteriorates inclusiveness and creates in and out groups.

Sure, evening dinners and weekend get-togethers might include some business discussion, but a family’s most treasured time together is a time to turn off the shoptalk.  Today is a good time to ask, “Are we honoring our family in our rituals and traditions or are we merely paying lip service to family and really just honoring the business?”


Paradoxes found in the Jewish New Year parallel many Family Businesses Paradoxes

Amy Schuman
Amy Schuman

Starting at sundown last Wednesday night, Jews across the globe ushered in a New Year, specifically the year 5772. It struck me again this year, how many tensions and contradictions are found in the traditions surrounding the holiday. These paradoxes echo many of those familiar to family businesses and quite a few that are described in Family Business as Paradox which I co-authored last year with John Ward and Stacy Stutz.  

For example, as we contemplate the yet-undiscovered possibilities of a brand new year, we are brought up short by a major theme of the New Year’s service: Teshuvah  or ‘return’. How is it that a new year begins with a ‘return’?  Upon reflection we realize that meaningful new efforts are rooted in the legacy of the past. They are shaped by the treasured values and lessons learned by those that came before us.

This tension is a major theme for family businesses that must find ways to honor both tradition and change.  My co-authors and I have been inspired by many family enterprises that grapple with this paradox, notably Beretta and   Cargill.

There are other paradoxes with resonance for family enterprise – for example, the tension between structure/rules and spontaneity/intention*. As with all religious observance, there are plenty of rules related to the holiday, and proper observance is spelled out well in advance. However the tradition also makes clear that observing the law alone is not enough – one must observe with an intention that embodies trust and respect, and that resonates with caring, even passion.

Family enterprises also wrestle with a similar tension.  Policies and rules are essential– for family employment, for compensation, for ownership. However, they can’t stand alone. They have to be partnered with the right intention – the right relationship.  And they are best when infused with real commitment and passion. Although it may seem impossible, families must find a way to approach policies and practices in ways that are both fixed and flexible.

I’ll share some real world examples in an upcoming post. In the meantime, do you have stories to share about these familiar paradoxes?

*Known in Hebrew as keva (fixed structure in ritual, fixed texts) and kavana (intention, focus, concentration).


Aren’t the Holidays Enough? Sports Rivalries and the Family Business

Mark Green Photo
Mark Green

If the holidays weren’t enough to stir up trouble for family businesses here in the US, for the past couple weeks we have been in the midst of college football rivalries to add some fun conflict to the family business. Yes, I did say fun conflict, and yes, there is such a thing, and sports can deliver the goods.  All over the country stretching from Southern California with the cross-town rivalries of USC and UCLA, to the South with Alabama and Auburn, to the Northeast with Harvard and Yale and culminating this weekend with Army vs. Navy in Philadelphia, it is rivalry season where brother roots against brother and family alliances and differences are celebrated!

Last Saturday here in Oregon the 114th Civil War game pitting the University of Oregon Ducks vs. The Oregon State University Beavers was played in Corvallis. The “number 1” Oregon Ducks went on to defeat the Beavers by a score of 37 − 20. Now the Ducks will play in the BCS championship game against Auburn on January 10th 2011 for the often-disputed title of college football champions. While the BCS debate is a whole other discussion for blogs and sports radio elsewhere, for family businesses, sports rivalries can be a nice distraction and an enjoyable way to deal with some healthy conflict. Here in Oregon, it was fun to watch families divided in their loyalties as a husband wore green and yellow (colors of the Ducks) and his wife wore black and orange (Beavers) and their sons and daughters divided in Oregon and Oregon State colors. Throughout the stadium the pattern repeated itself as families were divided in their allegiances, and some even went so far as to display the ultimate hybrid — the platypus — melding the Duck and Beaver fan who has ties to both schools. 

Many family businesses in the weeks leading up to the Civil War used the event with their employees as a way to bring hilarity to the work place as various bets and challenges were issued based on their respective allegiances to either the Ducks or the Beavers. I can tell you on Monday morning there were plenty of Beaver family business owners driving to work wearing Duck gear, or having their car adorned with Duck colors or even worse dressed as the Duck mascot. For many around the state of Oregon yesterday was a very long day of humiliation and insults, but there is always next year – and it was all in good fun.

Regardless of the sport it is interesting to see how in some families the long tradition of supporting one team continues while in others the next generation breaks the tradition and roots for the biggest rival – just to shake things up a bit.  Certainly many families use game day outings as a way to bond and socialize together for fun.  With a few of my clients we have used their strong connections with a certain sports team as a motivator to not violate the ‘Code of Conduct’ or they will be required to make a contribution to their rivals’ athletic fund. We have had a great deal of fun with it, and I can tell you the shame of writing that check is a powerful motivator!  A good question to ponder is: ‘How does your family use sports and rivalries as way to build bonds and connections with family and employees?’