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Why families need to go on the offensive in 2009

The new year is traditionally a time when you promise to give up a bad old habit or take up a healthy new one, but have you ever resolved to do anything for the benefit of the family business?

2008 ended badly, with the credit crunch swiftly followed by recession and the Madoff scandal, but the new year is a time to be optimistic, to look forward and search out some good omens.

In addition to being designated the international year of astronomy and, bizarrely, natural fibres, 2009 is also the international year of reconciliation. With wars in Afghanistan and Gaza raging, perhaps now is as good a time as any to put aside those petty differences with other family members and work for the good of the business – given the economic climate we are in, family conflict is the last thing anyone needs.

The year ahead also sees the inauguration on 20 January of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the US. As the first none-white leader of the free world, his rise to power is a triumph of hope and should inspire you to think the unthinkable in 2009 – innovation and belief will be key attributes.

February sees two notable bicentenaries – the births of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Lincoln led the US through its greatest internal crisis, the American Civil War, preserving the Union and ending slavery. Darwin's theory of natural selection, meanwhile, forms the basis of modern evolutionary theory and biology.

There will undoubtedly be ancestors in your own family from whom you can gain inspiration and strength to get you through the trying times ahead, but you could do worse than going over the biographies of these two historical giants for motivation.

Family business advisor Tom Davidow acknowledges that it is very easy to get discouraged and feel overwhelmed with all the bad news around, but believes the best defense against those feelings is a good offense.

"When life is feeling out of control, the most difficult but most important thing to do is to first acknowledge the feeling and take steps that will put you in a mindset where you are back not feeling helpless," he says. With this in mind, he suggests some new year resolutions for you to think about:

1. Take control of your business by examining revenue against expenses on a daily basis.
2. Make the tough decisions that you have been avoiding.
3. Review and re-vitalise your family's and business's core values.
4. Share the business/financial realities with all members of the family.
5. Begin to look for the opportunities that every crisis/difficult times offer.
6. Begin to plan for where you want your family and your business to be after the economy has turned around.
7. Commit to continuous communication with your family and the important members of your business.

At the coal face of family business, one South American family told Campden FB it has three key themes for 2009: apprenticeship/learning; understanding of the family and the business; and to be proud of the family business. Over in Asia, the managing director of a family-owned shipping group said his family business had resolutions with a maritime theme: "We aim run a tight ship by being efficient and watching our costs, and more generally weather the storm that's currently out there in the world."

For our part Campden FB aims to bring you information and inspiration to help you throughout the year ahead. If you have any suggestions for us, we'd love to hear from you. Click here to send us any thoughts. We wish you a prosperous 2009.

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