Category Archives: People and Talent

An Important Truth for First Generations to Learn in Family Businesses

When an entrepreneur starts his own business, from an ownership perspective, one of the key hurdles to overcome is securing enough capital to survive, then thrive. The principle sources of this capital are usually the savings and assets of the owner plus “sweat equity” invested by the owner and perhaps family and friends. The owner usually makes significant, personal sacrifices which help him and his family survive while their business is being built into a thriving, growing entity.

When ownership is passed to the second generation and the entrepreneur decides to share ownership between his children, the complexities at the ownership level increase exponentially. This complexity is a key hurdle for the second generation to overcome. Whereas the entrepreneur had sole control and could offer clarity in direction and decision, now that the ownership is shared, roles must be established and siblings must negotiate how they will cooperate in a shared power, shared authority model.

This complexity only increases if the entrepreneur decides to stay involved in the business without a clearly defined role. If he is vague about when full control will be passed to his children or if he is prone to take a extended time away from the business only to come back and start ordering his old staff and his children around, he will effectively create such havoc that his children may decide the family business isn’t worth their effort and time.

After passing control to his children, you might hear him talk about the old days – the work and sacrifice that was needed to get the business off the ground and make it successful. What’s ironic is that he’ll likely talk in such a way as to indicate that his children have no idea how much he has sacrificed and how they really don’t understand just how much has been given to them. In short, he’ll likely talk with an attitude of “they just don’t appreciate what they have”.

In this scenario, what isn’t appreciated is the comparison of apples to oranges. Yes, the entrepreneur sacrificed much to get the business to a thriving, sustainable state. But what he is passing to his children is not only a thriving business, but a set of complex, emotionally-charged elements that affect both their business and their families. He never had to negotiate power, control and the dual (sometimes triple) relationships that his children are negotiating. In short, he doesn’t appreciate what he is passing on and the potentialities for failure that could destroy his children’s and grand-children’s family relationships. Not only does a family business have the potential unify and support an extended family and their community, but a family business also has the potential to divide and destroy an extended family and damage the broader community in which they live.

This important truth sometimes is not appreciated by the members of the first generation. This is why clarity and intentionality in a succession plan is so important. If the children of the entrepreneur seemed to have harmonious relationships while growing up, one cannot assume that they will be free of conflict in their business roles. On multiple occasions where siblings who grew up together in happy, harmonious relationships, I have seen siblings never talking again in life because conflicts in the business drove a deep wedge between them.

So, what can be done? Here are several ideas:

First, the entrepreneur should have his children assessed for their real strengths and passions. Just because they inherited his DNA doesn’t mean they are the right people to lead his business moving forward. I’m not talking about just a matrix of psychological tests, which can be helpful. Instead, I’m referring to having his children work for someone else for at least five years, preferably ten, to have an objective, real-world assessment of their abilities, talents, passions and interests. Incidentally, this has the added benefit of giving them an opportunity to observe and learn from managers other than their father.

Secondly, don’t assume children in the second generation are the right people to lead the company moving forward. There are a number of family owned businesses that fail who could have succeeded had they decided to have nonfamily leadership run their family business. In a nutshell: be willing to be “family owned”, but not “family operated”.

Thirdly, give the children a “trial” period of running the family business before passing legal ownership to them – say two or three years. See how they interact. See who emerges as a peacemaker or a troublemaker. See if running the business changes their relationships. Then assess and make a decision about passing ownership to the next generation. The entrepreneur may be surprised by the decisions he ends up making.

Appreciating the key hurdles that the second generation will face and helping them over those hurdles will be one of the greatest, most enduring acts of love and kindness an entrepreneur will ever accomplish.

Bill English

Blowing Off Steam

Have you ever “vented” or “blown off some steam” to another person about your frustrations and ended up saying something that, after you calmed down, you disagreed with yourself? Because of the intensity of your frustration and some temporary lack of self-control, you said something that you knew wasn’t true: it simply represented how frustrated you were.

We all get frustrated at times. We all need someone to “unload” on who will listen, understand and perhaps empathize. We’ve all done it. And if there is one characteristic about venting, it is this: when we vent, we do it all the way – 100% – totally unvarnished – we just “let it fly”. People who are good at sarcasm can be funny when they are venting, but most of us are not and we say things that is not intended for public consumption.

But what do you do when you, a Christian Business Owner, overhear your employees venting about you, their boss? That 100%, totally unvarnished talk may hurt you deeply. You may not like it, but there is probably some truth in what they are saying, even if it is wrapped in a thick layer of sarcasm, hurt and/or anger.

If you’re like most bosses, you’ll swiftly acquire an air of superiority and self-righteousness. You may confront that employee directly or you may go away and sulk, promising to get revenge later is some passive way (we call this passive-aggressive). But if you’re mature, you’ll realize that your employee is just venting and that after a day or two, his old, likable self will come back.

The Bible speaks to this in Ecclesiastes 7.21-22:

“Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you – for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others”.

Well, now.

What Solomon is saying is that we should overlook the offense – let it go. Why? Because we have done it ourselves and so who are we to suddenly correct another person for doing what we have done many times? At this point, something about taking the log out of your own eye before taking the spec out of another’s eye comes to mind.

Your employees will blow off steam about you. Get over it. As a business owner – even a Christian one – you’re not universally liked. Not everyone has an enthusiastic opinion of you or your work product. And sometimes, you do and say things that are worthy of a venting session among your employees. Solomon’s advice is sound: if you hear about an employee or another person venting about you, your policies, your processes, your decisions and so forth – let it go because you yourself have done this many times too.

Bill English

Sorry, Christians Don’t Get to Retire

I have referenced how I believe that we will need to work well into our 70’s because I simply don’t believe that most have saved enough to be independently wealthy and whatever safety nets that are provided by the Federal Government will have negligible effect in 15 or 20 years.

But I’ve not dealt with retirement, as a concept, directly until now. So let me be direct and blunt:

The Scriptures do not support the notion of retirement.

Retirement implies stagnation, non-productivity and ceasing of growth. It has been retired. It is no longer useful. No longer helpful. No longer “part of the game”.

Sorry, Christians don’t get to become useless, unhelpful, irrelevant and unproductive. It’s not part of God’s plan and it’s not part of His will.

Work is a gift from God. Work existed before the Fall, so work is not a result of the fall nor is work part of the curse that God placed on Adam. I can find no place in the Bible where there is even a hint of support for our American concept of retirement – sitting back, relaxing every day, being non-productive and living off the money we have saved or inherited.

What I do find are passages like this:

Isaiah 60.21-22:

They are the shoot I have planted,

the work of my hands,

for the display of my splendor.

The least of you will become a thousand,

the smallest a mighty nation.

In Psalm 1.3, the Godly person is one who:

…is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither—

whatever they do prospers

In 1 Corinthians 3.6, Paul uses the imagery of growth when he talks about him planting a seed, Apollos water but giving glory to God because He is the one who causes a person to grow.

One can even point to Philippians 1.3-5, where Paul writes:

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

The idea is that God never stops working in us to grow the “good work” and that He does so until the “day of Christ Jesus”.

The passages I have cited at the tip of the iceberg. There are literally dozens of passages that indicate that God is creative and that He wants us to work and grow until we reach heaven.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t sell your business as you get older, but it does mean that as a Christian, you’re not allowed to sit back and do nothing. You must be growing – developing – learning – becoming – until the day you see Christ face to face.

Sorry, Christians don’t get to retire.

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