Just had lunch and another stimulating conversation with Ollie Glass, our new creative technologist at NixonMcInnes. Ollie is a very clever and interesting guy.
He passed on this ‘off-hand remark’ that someone had made about how family businesses have tended to outlast corporations where the shareholders are, I’m guessing, not tied by family. (Will see if I can dig this out, but for now I want to play with the ideas rather than get into the data).
What this got us thinking about was what is it about family business that leads to these long-lasting dynasties? And what, if anything, can non-family businesses learn?
For me, family and business are two words I’m not keen to mix! I have a strong desire to keep different parts of my life quite separate – family, work, friends. I like the clarity and the ease that I feel comes with that. And I also really need and value the sanctuary that family gives me from the mental demands of work. It helps me to have them apart.
I also hate the idea of tip-toeing around a family that work together, or worse, of me and my family inflicting our bickering onto them. Could anything be worse than that?! 🙂
But when I think about the potential goodness that can exist in family business I start to feel that there could be some enormous good in there for the wider business community to take inspiration from.
When Carole Leslie from the Employee Ownership Association visited us a few weeks back to talk about employee ownership she told us that one of the most common paths to employee ownership was a family business where the founder wanted to pass her or his company on to their children, but the kids weren’t interested.
In order to keep the culture and fabric they’d built, they looked to employee ownership.
So what is it they fear and resist about, say, the trade sale – the most common alternative? What is it that another business cannot provide?
And if family businesses last longer, is there something about their fabric, their shareholder mindset, the decisions they make and the priorities they place on things that the rest of us can learn from?
Thinking about shareholding in particular, is it the connections between the shareholders that do something good in family businesses, rather than the federation of individual interests all pointing towards a single objective – capital appreciation (and I guess, dividends) – with corporate shareholder bases?
Or is it the shared values? Or the drive for legacy and dynasty? Or the personal reputation, the realest of real skin in the game?
As we begin to work towards an evolved 21st century kind of business, are we actually heading full circle – returning to long-standing and long-lasting principles that millions of enterprises have been built on since civilization began? Will every business become more like the good parts of a family business?