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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 really about.

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!

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