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Book Review

Managing for the Long Run: Lesson in Competitive Advantage from Great Family Businesses
Miller, Danny & LeBreton-Miller, Isabel. (2005) , Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

The authors have written a wonderfully useful and readable book about what makes family businesses different and great. They studied a total of 58 family controlled businesses (FCB), which included companies such as Coors Company, Cargill, Fidelity, IKEA, Hallmark, L.L.Bean, The New York Times, S.C. Johnson and Wal-Mart Stores. The authors note that these are not average family businesses but the 'great' ones. In their research, they have concluded that "four driving priorities or even passions" are evident in the great FCBs and their leaders. They call these the "four Cs". They are (from page 32):

  • Continuity: Pursuing the dream. Our long-lived FCBs commit enduringly and passionately to a substantive mission-to do something important exceptionally well. They invest deeply and for the long run in the competencies needed to attain that mission. And because the company is the vehicle for achieving their dream, families strive to ensure corporate health and continuity, exercising careful stewardship over resources and encouraging long executive apprenticeships and tenures. Short-term tactics and quarterly earnings are furthest from their minds.

  • Community: Uniting the tribe. To realize their missions, thriving FCBs often insist on building a cohesive, clanlike team. They embrace strong values that rally people around what is important, socialize staff to assure that these values will prevail, and often pamper employees to elicit loyalty, initiative, and collaboration. Bureaucratic rules and financial incentives are secondary.

  • Connection: Being good neighbors. Many great FCBs cherish enduring, open-ended, mutually beneficial relationships with business partners, customers, and the larger society. These relationships vastly exceed the time span, scope and potential of episodic market or contractual transactions.

  • Command: Acting and adapting with freedom. FCB leaders desire the discretion to act independently-quickly and in original ways-often to renew or adapt the firm. They typically work with an empowered tope team whose members are similarly free to communicate openly and make decisions. Unlike at many non-FCBs, these leaders do not face hobbling constraints from shareholders.

They conclude with some 'starting tips' for family firms on their way to getting great:

  • Follow your passion
  • Use your initiative, not your job description
  • Do 'sweat the small stuff'
  • Time stagger your objectives
  • Get people on your side
  • Communicate face to face
  • Resist the urge to be petty about perks and salaries.
  • Make decisions that tell people who you really are.

Managing for the long run is full of examples, tips and good guidance for successful companies or those striving to be successful.


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