Here’s a book written for members of family businesses that is both practical and thoughtful. It includes twelve chapters, concluding with an “Outline for Family Business Education”. It’s filled with exercises that the reader can use to discover things like, “How Well the Family Works Together” ; or even “Rating Advisor Candidates”. The authors’, all members of the Aspen Family Business Group, goal in writing this book is to help families “who are in all states of health”.
The book is divided into four parts. Part one includes three chapters and begins with the case of the Symington/Thompson family enterprise. Weaving this case throughout the authors describe family business basics and common family business problems, such as conflict, blurred boundaries, and ineffective communications in this section. Moving on to the Part two, the authors tackle family business dynamics and challenges. They encourage the reader to understand that the natural pitfalls that families encounter “are not anyone’s fault… they are simply natural and predictable areas of friction and complexity that often happen when families make decisions about the family or the business.” This section ends with worksheets for the reader to identify, for example, “Is your family run like a business and family run like a family?” and a “Decision tracking worksheet”.
Following the first two parts that educate about family business and help the family identify its challenges, Part three, “Keys to Success” suggests tools for dealing with these challenges. These tools include creating boundaries, building communication and trust, developing governance structures, policies and procedures, assessing and developing leadership, working effectively with advisors, and planning for transitions. Each of these chapters includes practical tips, such as a table on functions of the family council and a leadership checklist.
The Keys to Family Business Success ends appropriately with the authors’ principles of success (for example, “practice the art of the possible” and “consensus is better than force”) and, then, a case illustrating these principles and practices.
What I like about this book is the wisdom brought to it by perhaps a century or more of working with family businesses. The authors have done a good job of bringing together practical experiences, useful information and challenging tools for members of family businesses. Weaving cases throughout the text the authors’ voices speak to the readers and encourage them to “create the family business legacy you want to deliver to future generation”. This is a user-friendly book and there is something for everyone who is willing and able to try some of the suggestions and recommendations. In my experience, moving from an interesting discussion among family members to dealing with significant differences, in my experience, usually takes some help and the authors offer this. One sad note is that Sam Lane, the authors’ partner, friend and co-author, did not live to see this book in print. Dedicated to him, it’s a loving tribute to his memory.