I was born into a successful family business that thrived for many years until it all went wrong in the worst possible way. My father’s mother had built a thriving wholesale paint business in New York City, supplying paint to building contractors, paint retailers, and even the State, which used it to paint the iconic George Washington Bridge.
Sadly, when my grandmother passed away and the five family members attempted to restructure the business, things began to unravel. Greed took over, and family values were pushed aside as a few of the relatives turned on each other. My father was so distressed by the infighting and the destruction it was causing, not just to the business, but to the family itself, that he voluntarily left.
For him, the most painful aspect was watching the family fall apart.
Managing a family business requires a delicate balance between business acumen and family dynamics. Some families, like the Waltons or Fords, excel at it, while others, such as the Sackler’s or Madoff’s, fail spectacularly.
Recently, a family business owner reached out to me for advice on transitioning leadership responsibilities to their children. In our conversation, the parents were honest about their assessments of their children’s business and leadership abilities. While they recognized that “all our kids are terrific,” they also understood that some were better suited for the business than others. They were determined to build a multi-generational enterprise and knew that engaging, training, and supporting their children would be crucial for success.
When we met with their children, some expressed a desire to be part of the business and were aware of what they needed to learn to succeed. Others recognized that their skills were better suited to other ventures. Nevertheless, every child wanted to be part of the success their parents had built.
The lessons learned from my family’s experience, and the discussions I’ve had with other family business owners, highlight the importance of clear communication, planning, and building an intentional plan where the needs and values of all family members are honored.
Family businesses are flourishing these days and the resilience they show are built on the values and principles exhibited by all the family members. If you have a family business challenge, drop me a line and we can chat about how to ensure your business and family success
© Richard Citrin 2023