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Entrepreneurial Life
Families in Business

Many people who work in family-owned businesses, or family firms, have never stopped to think of the concerns that are unique to family businesses. While about half of the gross national product comes from family owned businesses, and roughly half of America's workers are employed in family firms, the family business is seldom seen as having issues of any significant difference than other sole proprietorships, partnerships of corporations.

The truth is that family-owned businesses are unique

in so many ways that I couldn't mention them all in this brief message. The primary way that family firms distinguish themselves, of course, is that they are owned and operated by family members, such as fathers and sons, husband and wives, brothers and sisters, daughters and mothers, uncles, cousins, and so on. And the business is intended to be passed on to family members, from generation to generation.


Often the family-owned business is a closely held corporation, and perhaps has been in the family for generations. Other family firms are entrepreneurial ventures, barely a few years old. In any case, another major distinguishing characteristic of family firms, is that they are not just a business...not just financial support for the family. The family business is also an extension, or representation of the family. Family history...family values...family personality...are all expressed through the family business.

Because the family business is a reflection of the family member who own and manage the business, there are family matters that come up at work, and work matters that come up at home. The boundaries between home and work are very permeable. And in some cases, the boundaries are non-existent, such as those family businesses operated from the home.

With this interrelatedness of family and work, it is not surprising that family firms have different issues to deal with than other businesses. Most decisions within a family firm are made not only for the growth and profitability of the business, but also these decisions must be in the best interest of the family and its members. If there is a conflict between business needs and family needs, this can be quite upsetting for family members.

Successful family owned businesses, have found ways to integrate the needs of family and firm. There is open communication, so that problems get addressed quickly. All family members, whether or not they work for the family firm, have a part to play in the business. For example, family members can be employees, managers, executives, shareholders, board members, professional advisers and consultants. Family members are hired and promoted within the company according to merit, not status.

Not all conflict within a family firm are easily worked out from the inside, however. Sometimes the need of the family to nurture and protect its members is conflicting so greatly with the need of the business to expand and compete in the marketplace, that outside consultation is necessary to resolve the conflict. At these times, calling on professional consultants such as your attorney, CPA, and management adviser may help. As well, there are Family Business Consultants, who specialize in consulting to families on issues involving family dynamics, communication skills, and conflict resolution.

Family Business consultants are often professional psychologists, who have training in business management, or they often work in partnership with attorneys, CPAs and management consultants. The Family Business Consultant can help your family understand and resolve the unique dilemmas facing a family firm, and help you to keep the needs of the family and firm in balance.

If you feel are in need of some personal guidance on how to resolve a conflict in your family business please call to make an appointment at (360) 256-0448 or (503) 222-6678 or email us at info@kmarshack.com.