Adjusting a Business Father’s Dream - Part Two

When clients realize the dream for Next Gen can be revived

By Tom Hubler

Key Takeaways:

  • With openness, love and a facilitated process, even dysfunctional family enterprises can preserve the company, maintain family harmony and create an equitable ownership transition.
  • A common vision is something every business family can use to reduce conflicts and bring everyone into the decision-making process.
  • Successful family businesses have a process for making sure each member is clear and honest about what their expectations are for each other.

In Part One, we saw how a proud entrepreneurial father watched the dream for his children erode into a nightmare with seemingly no avenue to a happy ending. But with the right planning and honesty among family members, the dream for family and business harmony can be revived.

This is a generic illustration of the process I implemented for the family. You can see the steps as I referred to them.

To begin, I interviewed all the family principals and their spouses. From those discussions I formulated a plan that I proposed to them during my report at a family business planning meeting.

During the meeting we delved into my recommendations. The family created its common vision, which is something that I believe every business family needs and should create as soon as possible. It helps reduce conflicts by bringing everyone into the decision-making process about what everyone values, expects, and promotes in each other.

We all walk around with expectations about what a good father does, what a good boss does, and what a good brother- or sister-in-law does. After the family business planning meeting, I facilitated several relationship discussions by having two family members meet face-to-face with me. I encouraged them to share and negotiate their expectations for each other. Then they decide if they can, and will, carry through with the expectations each has for the other.

I helped these pairs understand that they need each other to carry out their roles in life, just as a movie star could not be a star without a supporting cast. But the movie has a star and a cast following a script. In life, the relationship is far more ambiguous.

I had each of the family members talk in different pairs based on a single idea: “For me to be a good (father, daughter-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, etc.), I expect you to do or continue to do.... ” Each of the two people participating took turns identifying and then sharing ten expectations they had for each other. Then they clarified those expectations. For example, Roger said to his son, Rob, “In order for me to be a good father, I expect you to love me.”

After Roger shared his expectation, he was asked to explain what behaviours would help him feel that Rob was meeting that expectation. Rob needed to know the expectations so that he could decide if he were willing to do them. It is an exploration, even a negotiation. Both sides play a role in terms of each other’s expectations. For both father and son, the resolution moved successfully. Rob forgave his father for the divorce and began to see his father more realistically as a normal man with limitations and flaws.

Roger was able to realize and accept his son for who he was. He was no longer disappointed in Rob for not having the leadership skills necessary to take over the family company.

Understandings between different pairs of family members were not perfect or blissful. Roger continued to carry past hurts about how his daughter-in-law, Kitty, had publicly criticized him. But at least she knew how hurt he was.

Rob and his brother-in-law, Patrick, established a new level of professionalism with each other, as well as a strong family commitment to each other as brothers-in-law.

I also helped the family work on the business side focusing first on the ownership plan.

  • Roger began to work with a professional financial planner to develop a financial exit strategy.
  • The family created an active board of directors, with Roger as chair. The board included Rob and Patrick and three outside advisors to make recommendations relating to compensation for both Rob and Patrick.
  • Roger became willing to consider having his son, Rob, own some of the company stock with restrictions that prevented his daughter-in-law, Kitty, from ever owning stock.
  • The family agreed to work on management and leadership issues.
  • Roger decided to name Patrick as president to lead the company. During our discussions, Roger had come to realize that Patrick had the talent and drive and was better suited than Rob for the position.
  • Finally, Roger agreed to use the Perfect Biz Match survey to help develop a business plan for the company. When there are many owners, a company must have a business plan.

Roger’s goals—once thought to be a “pipe dream” amid so much family dysfunction—were to preserve the company, maintain family harmony, create an equitable ownership transition, build a high-functioning leadership team, and have all employees continue to be valued for their contributions. With effort, openness, a facilitated process and love, he was able to achieve every one of his goals.

About the Author

Tom Hubler (tomh@thehublergroup.com) is president of Hubler for Business Families (hublerfamilybusiness.com) and an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas. He can be contacted at (612) 375-0640.