Clarification of Roles and Boundaries Especially
Crucial, When Client is a Family Business
Jane Hilburt-Davis delivered a winner that most everyone
present could readily identify with! Intense emotional tension
and family conflict was immediately evident on March 5, when
Jane Hilburt- Davis began her discussion of the unique issues
facing family-owned businesses. Early on, she shared a riveting
nine minute video clip that illustrated vividly, the multiple
roles that family members assume, when they are also engaged
In running a business together. Much of the consultative focus
with family business, therefore, has to be on helping members
get clear on whet 'hate' they are wearing, when they are attempting
to communicate and make decisions together.
According to our experienced and well-trained speaker, systems
theory provides an especially useful model for this work,
for there are three Interacting subsystems in the family business:
1) the family system; 2) the management system; and 3) the
ownership systems. Often family members are not clear out
of which system they are acting at a given point in time.
Dynamics operating in one system affect the others.
Presenting problems that leaders bring to a family business
consultant are often around a desire to develop a succession
plan or need for help with conflict over how the business
will be managed. Not surprisingly, family crises involving
divorce, death, disability, and/ or denial may precipitate
a crisis in the business. Frequently, Jane and her cohorts
begin their work with the key family members in a retreat
setting, for which they prepare with preliminary individual
interviews. During the retreat, participants are taught to
make explicitly clear what 'hat' they are wearing when they
speak. Management teams are helped to see how family patterns
affect the business and vice versa. Often It helps members
to differentiate whet the various decisions facing them are
Because client decision-making issues can involve financial
and/or legal matters beyond the expertise of a behavioral
science-trained consultant, Jane's firm, Key Resources, often
collaborates with trusted accountants and legal advisors.
She does think that family business consultants should have
sufficient knowledge of estate planning, taxation, etc., that
they know when to call in experts in those areas, and how
to work closely with them on behalf of mutual client firms.
Team-building, strategic planning, leadership development,
and mentoring plans for Junior members of the business family,
are among the areas in which Key Resources might work over
time with a family-owned business client. Members might be
helped to enter or to exit the business. While open communications
is often the desired end-state In non-family business -management
teams, in a family-owned business, such a goal might be fraught
with particular issues rooted in family secrets. A family
might be helped to reach a decision to sell the business to
a large corporation rather than to devise a plan for its own
succession at the head.
According to our speaker, one of the toughest challenges
for the family business consultant, is to manage self-in-the
situation, where there is often such a blurring of boundaries
among roles and system members.
Also of interest were the statistics that 8 out of every
10 businesses is family-owned, and that almost 50% of the
Inc. 500 fastest growing companies are family-owned. Yet,
as Jane pointed out, only 14% of family businesses succeed
into the third generation, even though 75% say the intend
to pass on the business.
Jane, a warm and engaging presenter, moved easily among theory,
relevant statistics, case examples, and dialogue with those
present, answering questions about her consulting practice
with knowledge grown out of significant experience and with
refreshing candor. She also provided selected readings and
other resources. This meeting was clearly a winner!