Tag Archive for 'family businesses'

Are you looking for answers in the wrong places?

This is a story about three small business owners who had one thing in common: a wise man named Luther. Oh, by the way, Luther is their janitor.

On Mondays, Luther cleans the offices at National Supply Co., Inc. Sometimes he talks with the founder, Mr. Gilbert.

One Monday afternoon Mr. Gilbert said, “Luther, I don’t know how long I can survive.”

“What’s wrong, Mr. G?” Luther asked.

“It’s those big-box competitors,” Mr. Gilbert said. “I’ve looked under every rock for ways to lower our prices and increase advertising, but I just can’t compete with those guys.”

“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place,” Luther offered.

“What do you mean?” Mr. Gilbert asked.

“Those big competitors will always be with us,” Luther reminded him. “Why don’t you emphasize the value of the human connection and customized service that only a small business like yours can deliver? Those two things alone are worth more than anything the Big Boxes offer.”

On Wednesdays, when Luther cleans the offices at Central Data Corp., he often visits with the owner, Sarah.

“Luther, I always assumed my kids would take over my business, but now it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen,” Sarah lamented one day.

“Why aren’t they interested in the business?” Luther asked.

“I’m stumped, she said. “I’ve shown them the opportunity and how profitable the business can be. What else can I do?”

“Maybe you’re asking them to look in the wrong place,” Luther suggested.

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.

“Sarah, I’ve noticed how much you love what you do,” said Luther, “even when times were tougher and things weren’t so rosy. From what I’ve seen, being an entrepreneur is as much about nourishing the spirit as growing the bank account. Help them think about that.”

On Fridays, Luther cleans the offices at Westco Dynamics, Inc. Mr. West usually talks with Luther for a few minutes, but he seemed pensive today.

“Luther, my family was so poor that we struggled just to survive,” Mr. West said. “When I left home, I vowed to never be that unhappy again.”

“Mr. West, it sounds like you’ve got something stuck in your craw,” Luther observed.

“Aw, it’s nothing,” Mr. West fibbed. “It’s just that, with all my money and stuff, I still can’t stop looking for ways to make sure I’ll never be poor again.”

“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place,” said Luther.

“What do you mean?” Mr. West asked.

Then Luther said, “You’ve been motivated by the fear of being poor instead of the joy of creating something from nothing. Try finding happiness in knowing that you provide valuable products and services for your customers, and jobs and income for your employees and their families. Remember, money and stuff only give you options, not happiness.”

Write this on a rock … When you’re looking for answers, make sure you look in the right places.

Successful small business succession planning

Statistics show that nine out of ten small businesses are family owned and operated; no big surprise there. After all, isn’t a start-up virtually by definition a family business? Indeed, what small business can be founded without some involvement, if not a lot of sacrifice, from the family members?

But when the founders ultimately decide to take their leave, orderly transfer of management and ownership to next generations breaks down significantly. In fact, less than one third of small businesses are transferred to family, and that number includes those that work and those that don’t.

In a past career as a business consultant, often working with families who work together in their businesses, I discovered at least two important small business succession planning truths:

1. The only thing harder than founding and growing a small business successfully is transitioning management and ownership successfully from the founder to the next generation of family.

2. The percentage of succession success increases with any combination of these three elements: higher management sophistication; high degree of respect among the parties; counsel from a family-business transition professional.

One family business transition I’ve observed, merely as an interested party, is the company founded by my friend, Tim Berry, a member of my Brain Trust and founder of Palo Alto Software, the makers of Business Plan Pro. All of his five children have worked in the company to some degree over the years, and earlier this decade he turned over the management reigns (not sure about any ownership transfer) to a middle child, daughter Sabrina.

From what I can tell, this transition is making all parties happy. With regard to my second point above, I’m not sure how much professional assistance they’ve sought, but I do know that Tim and Sabrina clearly fit the other two criteria of sophistication and mutual respect.

Recently, Tim joined me on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, as we talked about some of the key elements of succession planning. He’s been the world’s top business planning guru for a long time, but he has become a family business transition expert in the last few years. Take a few minutes to listen to his words of wisdom. And, as always, be sure to leave your thoughts.




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