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The value of family business networking

As a young researcher over 10 years ago, I remember feeling a little perplexed when family business leaders and family business successors I interviewed described life in the business as "lonely".

At first, it seemed strange to hear that people who were working with their family, who were in charge of their own business and masters of their own destiny were feeling lonely? What on earth did that mean? The next question was irresistible: Why?

The leaders of family businesses told me that people in the business world did not talk about family business matters. It was too private and people from non-family businesses had no idea what being a family business owner meant. It required a different approach to dealing with shareholder relations, the financial institutions, and when trying to incentivise non-family managers who were invariably in pursuit of the forbidden fruit – a share of the equity.

Others felt they could not lean too heavily on their close family during tough times because it was hard to admit to your family that the business was struggling. Furthermore, a lot was at stake. For many, the golf course became the refuge where others surreptitiously sought out people in the same situation, looking for someone who could really understand how they feel, because they felt the same.

Junior generation successors told me that a hard lesson to be learned when working their way up the family business ranks was that they never really "fit" anywhere. Workers and managers were on their guard when "the boss's kids" were around knowing that, one day, the "kids" might be the next leaders. Although they were invited to social events, they felt they were intruding and politely declined.

They had to work harder and longer to demonstrate that they did not expect to move ahead through favouritism. There was a generational chasm between themselves and the seniors – the boardroom was forbidden territory for a long time. Their social lives revolved around contacts outside the business, usually friends from university who had moved away and were making purposeful career progress in someone else's business.

If there are still people around in family businesses feeling this way, then they simply have to take a look at what other family business people have done to improve things. Half of the the Family Business Network's 2,000 members participate in activities in 17 chapters around the world.

The association itself, and its chapters, have been running excellent networking programmes for business-owning families, some especially designed to develop the next generation of social family entrepreneurs, as you will see from this edition of Families in Business. The annual conference is FBN's flagship event, where business families from all over the world network and socialise together.

So there is no need for leaders and successors to feel lonely any more. 

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