4 Undeniable Truths About Taking Over The Family Business

A road with caution signs on a corner representing there are truths to know before taking over a family business
Photo by Muhammad Daudy / Unsplash

Taking over the family business is an intimidating undertaking. If you have both the opportunity and the passion for the work then consider yourself blessed. However, attached to that blessing is a level of responsibility and sacrifice that many never experience. Here are four truths I have learned that are required from whoever carries a business into the next generation.

Prepare to Serve

I love to hear the phrase "How can I serve you today". I'm so fond of it because it is a powerful question to both the recipient and the questioner. When you hear it you immediately feel respected and cared for. There is not a more powerful question that puts you at ease and impresses upon you that at this moment they exist to support you.

As much as it impacts the recipient, I believe it has an equally powerful effect on the one asking. The very question humbles you and places you in a subservient position. Our human nature despises this, however, being in the service of others should be the core reason why we are in business. If you make this a regular part of your verbiage you will be building a neural pathway that you are the type of person who desires to serve others.

When you decide to take over the family business and carry it into the next generation you need to understand how important serving others is. Humble yourself for:

  • You need to serve the primary owner of the business as you have a fiduciary responsibility to act in their best interest.
  • You need to serve the customers because without them there is no one to buy your product or service.
  • You need to serve the other leaders in the company as everything rises and falls on leadership. If you don't build trust they will not partner with you in the future.
  • You need to serve your employees because without them the mission will not be accomplished.

Jocko Willink has a saying "Leadership is all on you but it is not about you." If you can not humble yourself and serve others, you will not be successful in business.

Put The Time In

This year marks the tenth full-time year I have worked in our family business. If you were to calculate all the time I have invested into the business since I was in middle school until today, I can tell you that the full-time equivalent is significantly more than ten years. Today, I am honored to play a substantial leadership role and the business succession plan is progressing. I preface this topic with these facts because it highlights a key truth about succession which is it takes considerable time. You will need to be patient and accept that.

Guard yourself against an entitled attitude and accept that you don't know everything. Instead, apply your time and effort to learn every role in the company you can.

  • Learn your product's ins and outs
  • Learn how to identify those who need your solutions and how to sell to them
  • Learn how to provide customer service and support
  • Learn how your accounting department works and understand your numbers
  • Learn how to take care of your people

Taking the business to the next generation will require dedication and time. Embrace it and put the time in.

The Weight of it All

The responsibility and weight of leadership are tremendous. From my first years in the business, I recognized that my friends had a level of freedom that I did not. When 5 PM hit and they punched the clock their responsibility ended. I imagined them taking a pack off their back and they were free to do whatever they desired until they came back for their next shift. At that time they would put the pack back on their back and resume their work. As a leader that is a luxury you won't experience. The pack never comes off. It is an ongoing responsibility that requires continual devotion.

A man hiking alone with a heavy pack representing the weight you carry with leadership
Photo by Ophélie Authier / Unsplash

The evidence, both good and bad, can be seen in ways such as:

  • Working on customer emergencies any hour of the day including weekends and holidays.
  • Finding yourself thinking about business problems when you should be present with your family.
  • Knowing that your leadership of this business and its corresponding success directly impact your employees and their families (Count the employees plus their spouses and children and think about that number!).
  • Experiencing physical sickness due to stress.
  • You realize you have to make the final decision on that hard problem.
  • You realize that everything bad that happens in your organization is both your responsibility and your fault.

You will feel the weight. Hard decisions will be all yours.

Family Conflict

It is well known that taking over the family business can lead to conflict. Similar to living with a family member, proximity inevitably builds tension over time. This tension is only amplified when any one family member has an unhealthy view of money, ego, or power. A fascinatingly negative example of this conflict can be read in The Arsenal of Democracy and the relationship between Henry and Edsel Ford. I am tremendously thankful that I speak only from what I have read and that my father and I's relationship has not been negatively impacted.

These are all truths of what is required of a leader who wishes to take the family business to the next generation. If you serve others, put the time in, are willing to bear the weight of the responsibility, and can navigate the family dynamics, then you may carry the business another generation.

I'd love to hear your from you about your experience in family business.  Send me a message here.