It’s all in the family
As the daughter of a farmer, it seemed the most natural thing for my brother and I to contribute to the running of our busy arable and livestock farm from an early age. Our summer holidays were the busiest time of the year helping with harvest. Mealtimes were always an opportunity to discuss how things were going and everyone in the family was involved in what was not only a business or a vocation but a livelihood – it was our home, our social circle and it occupied our every waking hour.
Many businesses and organisations start because family members get together to create something. The reasons behind this are often economic; it is a matter of trust and a willingness to give far more than could be expected of an outsider. It can be money invested in the venture or hours of time given for no financial reward (in the hope that at some time in the future there will be a repayment!). When a family business works well there is nothing more powerful than a group of people who believe in the same things, have the same motivation and drive and a passion to succeed. Did you know that some of the largest corporations are family owned, like Littlewoods, Walmart, Mars and Johnsons?
However, there can be pitfalls. In choosing to employ family members - have the managers or owners of the business really selected the right person for the job? Do they have the necessary skills? Is it possible to persuade them to get the necessary training?
Thinking about who is going to ‘own’ and ‘control’ the business needs to be clearly defined early on and it needs to be a practical and workable solution - not necessarily based on seniority or on the most vocal, strident member of the family or shared amongst all so that in reality no one is making the decisions.
I know of one company where 21 members of staff were from the family and it proved to be disastrous as they could never agree on the direction of the company. Some wanted expansion, others were risk averse and some just wanted to draw a wage and go home at the end of the day without the burden of making the decisions expected of them as family members.
Another difficulty can arise from the very fact that family members know each other extremely well. Remembering that a child used to struggle with shyness or a father was always irritated by interruptions can give licence to a family member to put another into that ‘box’ permanently and the temptation to ‘wind-up’ a sibling or parent is ever present!
As working people we all try to have a ‘professional’ persona – where we tolerate and respect our colleagues and hope to reserve some of our more quirky mannerisms and behaviours for when we are at home and totally relaxed amongst friends and family. Imposing a dividing line between a working relationship and a family relationship is needed for the sake of everyone’s sanity.
So whilst I am a champion for the family business I do urge anyone thinking of starting or running one to be aware that there are some special challenges. The rewards on the other hand can be especially satisfying and financially beneficial for those we value, trust and love the most.
Deborah Wildridge Director