When done well, a lasting family business can be a great experience. Not just for both the family members involved, but also the clients doing business with the company. Parents, children, siblings and several generations of family together can create a powerfully successful business model.
Part of the lure of a family business is that a family who works well together tends to share a committed passion, a personalized style, and a dedicated customer service that other small businesses and clients appreciate.
Of course, working with family isn’t easy, but plenty of people make it work. I spoke with some family businesses that are going strong and enjoying the intimacy and challenges of working with one another.
Many find an advantage in working with other small businesses; others found hiring other families and their family members a comforting and familiar benefit in creating a loyal and committed company culture.
Here are a few ways to make working as a family a lovely business experience.
Come to terms with the idea of working with your family.
“When I was getting out school, at first I wasn’t interested in going into my family’s business,” says Jay Robertson, the Managing Director of Kauri Cliffs and his family's company, Cape Kidnappers – a collection of high-end luxury resorts in New Zealand. After a few hotel management stints in Florida, Robertson took his experience and re-evaluated what it meant to work with his father, Julian. “Initially, I felt that it was a cop-out for many people to work with their family business, that they used family as a fall back. But then I understood what a family business could also mean. There are others of us who have gotten involved with the business and stepped it up, adding something completely new to what our fathers or grandfathers did.”
Build onto what has already been established.
Since, with a family business, you're dealing with something that was created by someone else, the key is to put your own mark on it. For Robertson, that meant reconciling with the idea that he would have to make a big international move to New Zealand.
“That was the tough decision for me – actually moving to New Zealand. But that is what was missing from our business – someone down there who lived [there] and knew the properties and would meet the guests who were staying there. My father has created a great property with the greatest of amenities, but where it struggled was having great people down there to back it up. Having family down there to represent us makes a big difference. Most of all what my father and I have learned working together is how much his weaknesses are my strengths, and vice versa. Because we have that balance, people see it and appreciate how we make a great team.”
Find like-minded businesses to do business with.
Ajune is a 12-year-old medical day spa in New York run by Dana Romita-Cox and her father Dr. Mauro C. Romita. Between Dr. Romita’s private practice and the spa, the father-daughter team (along with a grandfather advisor and Dana's accountant husband) has managed to find and attract other families to do businesses with.
“Small family businesses are the types of companies we find we are drawn to,” says Romita-Cox. “Many of the products and technologies we work with and sell are individual, entrepreneurial companies that are started by a single person or a family. When you’re both cut from a similar cloth, you tend to empathize, support, and create camaraderie together.”
Realize size doesn’t matter – it’s how you treat people.
The role of the Internet is a powerful one when taking a business globally. The reach is endless. “We have some products we carry that are sold to and by huge companies, but the way we deal with everyone is as a smaller company,” says Romita-Cox. “We run our business very personally and businesses, big and small, take note, and many have come back now for 12 years. This way you get to see how you and the people you do business with treat people.”
She continues: “When you’re a family running the business, it’s not just about dollars and cents: its 24 hours of caring about a job that directly affects me. We are not shareholders. One product we carry is from a small company started by a daughter and her parents. When she asks me for ideas or my feedback on her products, it’s not for statistics to send to corporate. She wants to know if people understand her vision and... use her products in the way she intended them to be used. There is a difference in the way you regard business decisions when you’re a family and privately held.”
You can make decisions faster and fix mistakes quicker.
Within a family dynamic the decision making process for a business can be less convoluted.
“You can make it known easily to your clients what your abilities and flexibilities are,” says Romita-Cox. “We’re able to respond to ideas quickly and execute them. I can have a vision one day and implement it in the next day or week,” adds Dana.
That quick decision-making and direct impact on a business can be very appealing to clients – even when something doesn’t go well.
“When you’re small, you suffer the effects of a bad decision quickly and can turn it around and recognize it faster,” says Romita-Cox. “In my family’s business I don’t have to go through levels of corporate approval. It’s a luxury to execute your business decisions unilaterally.”
Keep your emotional reactions out of business discussions.
Being a father-daughter duo is bound to have its moments. Romita-Cox found she had to really focus on making an effort to keep her emotional reactions out of business discussions.