Business partnerships are difficult and statistically more than sixty percent don’t survive. Family businesses add another dimension to the challenges business partnerships face, they bring in the family. The mother, father, sister, brother, spouse, cousin, uncle, aunt…you name it. Even if the family member is not involved with the running of the business, they are involved. I have worked with a number of family businesses over the years and I want to share a few stories of how these family businesses impacted the families, regardless of the success of the business itself.
Early on I worked with a father/step-son business. The father had raised the step-son from an early age. There were a number of personal challenges with the step-son that stemmed from substance abuse. He was the heir-apparent to the business and yet the father wasn’t comfortable turning over the business to him. His mother wasn’t willing to recognize the substance abuse problem and there were constant struggles and fights between the father and his wife. I worked with the father until it became clear the problem was a therapy/family counseling issue. The marriage, while strong and still intact, paid a heavy price.
Two brothers came to me to help with their communication and turning their company into a consistently high-performing organization. Ownership of the business wasn’t equal, though they shared decision making. One of the brothers didn’t want to work as hard as the other, and wanted to continue to be handsomely compensated. The brother who was working hard and putting in many hours was primarily responsible for revenue generation, even though it was to be a shared role. You can likely imagine the arguments over who was working harder, whose spouse was upset because they gave up vacations or time with the kids because he was always working, and the list goes on. Eventually, the one brother bought the business from his brother and it was messy and unpleasant and for many years they didn’t speak with each other at all.
Husband and wife run a business. Each owns fifty percent and have different roles and responsibilities. Think of how much time they spend together every day not just at home, but at the office. What do you think they talk about at dinner or in bed at night? Business! My husband and I both own businesses though not together and we talk a lot about business and clients and how to handle certain situations, but we each go back to our respective businesses. When you are married to your business partner it’s not so easy to separate business from personal or business from family. They get mushed together and the lines blur. In this case it happened all the time and time with the kids usually included one parent not both because someone had to run the business.
I can provide a number of other examples, but the same theme will show up. When families work together to run a business it will be costly to them, they will pay a price for the success of the business. It often interferes with the intimacy of the family…how could it not when work and home life blurs? We see things in our family members in the business realm we never noticed about them personally, and what we see we don’t like. How could that realization not impact the relationship? We bring stories and frustrations home to our spouses and they become agitated on our behalf, and it changes how they feel about the other family members. All family businesses don’t end up with family members hating each other or fighting or butting into each other’s roles, but it happens more often than you’d think.
Family businesses have to work harder at their relationships with each other because of the family and extended family and the extended extended family. The cost of success often means the personal relationships take a back seat. If you are considering joining the family business make sure to ask yourself if you are willing to deal with the high price of success and what it might cost you.
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