Suzy Bibko takes the reigns at Families in Business and tells how this issue explores the one constant in life – change
As this issue of Families in Business goes to press, I'm planning a trip to my homeland, America. I'm going to back to New York City for my first time since I left five years ago. A lot has changed there since then, most notably the absence of two remarkable buildings and many, many lives.
But as I sit here planning my packing and kamikaze shopping spree, I can't help but think back to my days in midtown Manhattan. Five years ago, one of the 'hot topics' of discussion was the encroachment of super-stores and the inevitable decline, if not death, brought by them to the mom-and-pop family businesses. The controversy was heated, with fervent supporters of both sides. In fact, the drama was even played out during that time on the silver screen in the film You've Got Mail.
But I left before I could see the results, and lost interest in the debate as other, more local matters in my new 'hometown' dominated discussion. So, I'm curious to see how the debate unfurled, and whether I'll notice the absence of the ubiquitous family-run corner shops that made New York City what I remember it as. I've no doubt they've survived, but they may have changed, as so many businesses have in these tough economic times.
This topic, of course, begs the question, How do family businesses the world over adapt to change? In this issue of Families in Business we explore some of the things family businesses can do and are doing to foster, implement and, of course, ease change.
In Germany, the country focus of this issue, we learn that family businesses need to overcome many challenges to survive and thrive in the next decade. Early examination of issues like education, succession, professionalisation of management teams and globalisation means that change doesn't have to be painful. On the contrary, with proper planning it can be encouraged and even embraced. German family businesses Heraeus and Boehringer Ingelheim have set good examples in this area. Heraeus eased through a revolutionary reorganisation several years ago – in just six months; now the newly streamlined and efficient company is set for further change by expanding its operations in Asia. Pharmaceuticals giant Boehringher Ingelheim recognised the need to have someone dedicated to orchestrating one of the most important changes in a family firm's life cycle – that of steering the family's next generation into leadership positions. While this role may not seem that uncommon, employing a non-family member in the role of "honorary head of the family" was a bold move for the firm.
While these changes very directly affect the public view of the business, there are plenty of changes that can affect the more mundane matters of the family firm. In these times of corporate shake-ups and financial scandals, it seems that changes to legal rules were inevitable. Our Business for Family Business section takes a look at some of these legal matters, discussing what they mean for family businesses and what family business owners need to do to comply with them.
Many family firms also find themselves changing because they want or need to take themselves to the next level financially. In our new section, Family Firm Finance, we explore the different methods a family business can use to grow, whether it be through venture capital, mergers and/or acquisitions, or IPOs.
Whatever stage your family business is at, it is undoubtedly encountering some sort of change. However, I hope my visit to New York City will prove to me that while change is inevitable, one thing is constant – that family businesses are here to stay, no matter what the world throws at their feet.