By Mark Klein
Family run businesses are often quite successful. One or both spouses comes up with a great idea and together they build a very rewarding business. In most cases the business begins with many long days in their garage and very little financial reward. But with the passion of that “great idea” they persevere for many years and establish their family business. Invariably, they also raise a family and so their little company is now truly a “family business”. However, this is where it gets tricky.
At some point in the timeline of the family business, the parents want to retire and hand off or sell the business to one or more of their children. This situation can be summarized as a business in transition.
As an advisor to family businesses, I find myself not only working to assist the family with generally improving their business, but I also wind up in the role of family mediator.
Recently, the mother of a client of mine, we’ll call her Mary, asked to meet for a cup of coffee. (Mary and her husband were nearly 70 yrs old and they were transitioning out of their business and moving it to their children.) We met and it started with small talk. But she quickly began sharing some of the “behind the scenes” relationships between her son and daughter. Both of her children worked in their company. Soon it became very apparent to me that they did not get along – at all. Mary described the extreme tension in the family because of their incessant bickering. She said, “they don’t come to my Thanksgiving meals or won’t show up on Christmas Day if they know the other is going to be there.” At that point Mary looked at me with tears rolling down her cheeks and asked me to help her. “Please make this go away. I want desperately for them to co-exist peacefully so we can be a family again. I want to see them and my grandchildren during the holidays.”
Fortunately, this story has a relatively happy ending. But the impact on me from that conversation with Mary that day was profound. I will never forget that conversation and I am even more sensitive to what is behind the scenes of the family business. No matter how successful a family business is, it does not replace the closeness of a loving family.