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Book Review: Keeping the Family Baggage Out of the Family Business

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Family Business

When considering a successful family business, we tend to focus on the external outcome rather than all of the challenges and effort that goes into making it successful. The reality is that, when you mix business and family, conflicts of interest can arise which offer unique challenges to a family business’ road to success. One could see how working alongside your favorite aunt might cause some undue tension. A successful family business is no easy feat, no matter how it may seem.

Quentin J. Flemings’ Keep the Family Baggage out of the Family Business sheds some light on the the unique difficulties family businesses face. He outlines the “seven deadly sins” that are “the most common manifestations of family baggage”.

The Seven Deadly Sins That Destroy Family Businesses, as identified by Quentin J. Fleming:

“It’s the same old song”A person’s behaviors continue to be the same as they always have been since childhood.
“We’re one big, happy family”Unable to separate “church and state,” or in this case family and business.
“They may have become adults, but they’ll always be my children”Grown adults are unable to be recognized as such by their parents.
“You’re not loyal to this family if you insist on being selfish”Family members are not able to be recognized as their own person with their own ideas/beliefs.
“Father knows best?”Founders of the business are unable to let go of any type of control.
“Maybe it will go away if we ignore it”Failure to make confrontation.
“Tell me about your childhood”Younger family members not going out to spread their own wings before settling into the family business.

Conflict is inevitable when human nature is involved. For family businesses, even more so. Fleming suggests a distinct separation of “church and state,” or in this case family and business. Most people are able to have a distinct separation between work and home. This is not the case for those in a family business. Work tends to follow them home and home tends to follow them to work. Not to mention a common shortcoming is the failure to recognize that duties of an individual may be wholly different in the business than they are in their families.

Fleming’s Yes/No Quiz

In his book, Fleming has provided a quiz that helps determine whether your focus is on “family” or on “business.” Some examples of the yes/no statements in the quiz include:

  • “It is imperative that the business be kept intact and handed over to the children”
  • “Family members are careful to avoid discussing family matters at work”
  • “Family members are paid equally”
  • “Children live apart from the family for an extended number of years prior to their entry into the family’s business”
  • “The business will hire a better-qualified outsider before it will employ a family member”

Fleming dives deeper into the seven deadly sins, as well as the emotional issues that arise when they undergo succession.

Succession introduces change into a business, which in turn conjures up fear. This fear of the unknown can ruin all previous plans of succession. Though if succession does not occur at the correct time, as Fleming says, it will undoubtedly cause even more family conflict.

Beyond the topic of how destructive family-baggage can be, readers also get a glimpse of the psychological dynamics. There are the human factors at play, and the problems that come with hiring family members.

Fleming concludes with proven game plans that can help strengthen a family business. One of these practical recommendations, mentioned throughout, is the importance of building a council of advisors. He suggests the following four members.

Council of Advisors

  1. Consultant – leader: This member sees the “big picture.”
  2. Lawyer – advisor: This member should know when to go to bat and when to step back from the fight.
  3. Accountant – quiet presence: They are meant to help the leader (consultant) and provide “what-if” scenarios using numbers.
  4. Psychologist – an auxiliary member: This member should only be utilized when the situation requires it (i.e. family disputes).

The book is riddled with strategies and examples of methods for overcoming specific types of family business challenges associated with the seven deadly sins. Anyone involved in a family business as either an advisor, an employee, or a family member should give this one a read.

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