What happens when a family business Success Story is heading towards a potential sequel that rips both family and business to shreds?
I wasn’t sure, and this is where I came in.
My client is the matriarch of a family business that she and her husband rebuilt after her father’s poor decisions took it to the brink of collapse.
Together, they picked up the pieces and gradually nurtured the business back to health while their children grew up running around the office while Mom and Dad worked.
There is nothing more important to this woman than family. Having a business that allowed her to play an active role in her children’s lives had always been a top priority.
By the time she reached out to me, her children were grown, working in the business and bringing kids of their own to work with them. The joy of having the opportunity to help raise her grandchildren was a dream come true.
Although the business was more profitable than ever, the ghost of her father’s failure haunted her, leaving her reluctant to share significant details about the business with her family. Her husband was used to being in the dark, but her son was growing the business faster and further than her tight reins would allow. He grew frustrated as projections and planning for future growth became exceedingly difficult to access.
The strain was beginning to threaten the very thing my client valued most. Her family.
Her children had grown up knowing the business would be theirs when the time came for Mom and Dad to retire.
Her son possessed his parents’ work ethic, driving the business forward almost singlehandedly. From his initiatives alone, revenue doubled over the previous 5 years, and the next half-decade looked even better.
Her daughter worked in the office in a supporting role. She was congenial, intelligent, and generally helpful when needed, but while her brother lived and breathed the business, she had displayed neither the interest nor the aptitude for business that he possessed.
The original plan to offer her children a 50/50 split no longer matched the contribution each contributed to the success of the business.
At any time, her son could leave the family business and start a competitor, leaving his sister with a shell of a business.
In this close, loving family, what exactly would be fair? She had no answers and was struggling with the very real possibility that future Christmases would be terribly uncomfortable for all.
Her son was inclined to be generous toward his sister. At the same time, if she insisted on sticking to her expectation of a 50/50 split, he and his father would leave to start a competitor, decimating both family and business in a single move.
Her daughter’s pride would not allow for any compromise. She couldn’t accept that the story she believed since she was a little girl was no longer true.
“This business will belong to both of you when we are gone,” was a promise she heard. And that meant a 50/50 split.
I facilitated a series of family meetings and did my best to create an environment where all parties could share their perspectives without judgment or criticism.
Once everyone remembered the priority of family above all else, a solution emerged.
Feathers were ruffled, but compromises were made all around and the business is set for another generation. Babies are running around the office that may become owners in the future. That future is far brighter now.
Thecompany has grown from a local business to a regional powerhouse and embodies the matriarch’s vision of everything that a family business should be.
Yes, business is messy. Family can be messier.
Mix the two together, and the recipe must include a heaping helping of compromise and compassion for best results.