Family Business Counselling & Advising@ The Challenge of Excellence

"Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical and expecting more than others think is possible"

Background to The Family Business Arena  

Family enterprises have been around since time began so it is surprising that academic research into this field only began in the early 1950s. As a professional field therefore it is a relatively emerging arena. In 1986 The Family Firm Institute (USA) was created by academics for the benefit of family firms with a view to the professionalisation, education and accreditation of family business advisers; it is now the leading association worldwide. Thanks to their efforts the field has now accumulated and integrated a vast bank of sophisticated knowledge that crosses law, finance, the management and behavioural sciences and family therapy/groupwork and is known and respected worldwide as FFI’s ‘Body of Knowledge’. Susan Kaye, The Counsellor@ The Challenge of Excellence is one such accredited family business adviser and was part of the committee focused on developing its multi-disciplinary Body of Knowledge work. Susan was subsequently awarded Fellow status.

Family Businesses - a vibrant part of society and the economy   Family firms account for two thirds of businesses worldwide and yet just 12% reach the third generation. In some countries, FBs represent more than 90% of total businesses. They are a vibrant and important part of society and the economy.

Family firms are multifaceted   They are complex entities, driven by a variety of factors. They comprise intricate relationships that non-family businesses do not encompass and can present challenges that interfere with otherwise acceptable and conventional strategies, processes and decisions about how a business in that particular sector should go forward and be run. For example, a family’s hopes and Vision for its future may be very different from the Vision of its family business; they may even conflict with each other. Succession planning can be another extra-loaded issue; for example an in-law within the family business (FB) management team may have a conflicting perspective on succession if s/he has an interest in his/her children taking over the business or wants those children to become shareholders. Or, there is no succession planning at all; 90% of UK FBs, have no succession plans in place.

Multiple Roles   And then there is the Chief Emotional Officer (CEO)! A spouse of a founding member of a family business, often a female but not always, may carry a powerful influence within the family, a role that can easily ‘trip’ over into the business even if that person holds no legal positon within the management or shareholder group. Family member roles within a family business can wield subtle but quite considerable influence behind the scenes. And non-family members within management or as a shareholder can also add to the tensions of running a family firm.

Relationships between and within the various ‘circles’ of family businesses   The potential for conflicting viewpoints is endemic and to complicate things further the known sub-groups and relationships within and between the sub-groups (family, management, and shareholders) can create even more confusion if feelings, perspectives and objectives are not clearly and openly articulated within a safe environment. Often such scenarios and ambivalent feelings are simmering beneath the surface while the business and the family, instead of competently, efficiently and harmoniously going forward, are lumbering painfully through. Relationships in these situations are highly sensitive and require skill, compassion and understanding if the members within these structures are to navigate through what can sometimes be stormy waters and function as a high performing happy family team and business.

Knowledge & Mastery   The stories that abound of families and friendships which are tragically destroyed as a result of conflict within the various systems of a family business has led to the often held view that going into business with one’s family or a close friend should be avoided at all costs. This is very sad, for with today’s knowledge and advice available, many of these ‘casualties’ are avoidable and unnecessary. However, for the number of horror stories we hear, there are thousands of family businesses all over the world that are successful, fulfilling and happy.

These are families in business who either instinctively ‘know’ how to manage and ‘master’ the impact of the various complex and different structures within them, or they educate themselves about the field. They understand that each family member has a dream of their own as well as one for the business and they are able to articulate these dreams and desires without fear of reprisal. They also understand that being a family member does not have to mean following in Mum’s or Dad’s footsteps! It may mean a younger generation learning and earning their own stripes first by starting their own entrepreneurial endeavour, or in fact taking a job outside of the family business altogether.

Families that Love & Work Together, Learn Together   Often, families that work together do not consider themselves as a Family Business. Siblings, or husbands and wives, couple relationships, mothers and sons or fathers and daughters or any combination of family members, even if they are just two family members that own the business, is a family business. Whilst each family and each family business is unique, with its own personality and issues, there is nevertheless now a vast of bank of ‘learned wisdom’ that has emerged from the fast growing international and sophisticated field of family business advising and which is now available for the benefit of family firms today.

The Counsellor@ The Challenge of Excellence believes that when a family has talent, love and common desire within it, there is no finer and more fulfilling institution to work in, and if there are challenges within that institution then the value of seeking professional guidance can produce untold positive and dramatic results. Whether small or large, when a family in business together is educated and informed about the most important do’s and don’ts of family business, it can flourish, it can serve the family and it can serve society. It is a labour of love.

It is this labour of love, the challenges presented and overcome, the passion that drives it and the outcomes that can be achieved that excites and draws Susan to the spirit of this work.

Privacy & Trust   Understanding that family firms are notoriously private by nature, and usually for very understandable reasons, Susan recognises that the issue of trust within a family business is very strong and that it is her responsibility to earn that trust. The Values that she and The Challenge of Excellence hold are the bedrock of her work and journey with a family firm, and whether she works collaboratively with other trusted family advisers or as a single adviser, her first objective is to develop mutual trust and agree on a contract of work based on shared values.

The Counsellor@ The Challenge of Excellence has worked with families in business since 1995. Her experience in this field has been a natural progression from her thirty years of professional counselling and background in group work for individuals and families and her work in the corporate world with Executive Management Teams and their Leaders. Her subsequent work in youth education and youth entrepreneurship has added to her portfolio of expertise as she combines all of this ‘oeuvre’ for the benefit of multi-generational work with family businesses.