Face the Risks of Suddenly Being Viewed as a Family Business


As specialists in the strategic needs of privately held midsized companies, we naturally interact with lots of family owned businesses.  There has been more than one government study that has said that the owners of 90% of all privately held companies view their companies as “family businesses.”  That’s a lot!  Some owners claim they are “family owned” even when only one member of the family is involved.  No spouse, sibling, offspring, cousin or even an in law employed in the company! WOW.

It makes you wonder what is meant by “family business.”  In some folks’ minds, “family business” means trustworthy, hard working, stable, community minded, friendly, and focused on customer service.

But what does “family owned and operated” mean to prospective employees?  It can mean that their careers will be limited. They may assume that they will never be eligible for profit sharing, could never become an equity shareholder, will never be viewed as a top executive, and will never fully have the president’s ear.   It could mean that they should always be prepared to have some young kid brought in to become their boss. Being the boss’s son or daughter trumps any advanced education, job experience, or longevity with the company they may have.

If your business is family owned, it takes intentional effort to convey your policies about career advancement opportunities, your logic behind hiring and promotions, etc.  It can be difficult to attract top talent if you can’t tangibly demonstrate that you value “outsiders,” are open to having business partners who don’t share the same last name, and use contribution to guide profit sharing rather than genetics.

We were reminded about these kinds of issues recently when a company (now a client) inadvertently slipped into being viewed as a “family business.”  The president had needed some help with the firm’s marketing and had asked his very capable wife to help. He couldn’t figure out why his key employees were acting funny, seemed defensive, were suddenly worried about their futures, questioning his decisions, etc. He knew he was still the owner and their boss. But the key employees had assumed the premise of the business had changed.  If your company is a “family business,” make sure you know why and address the negative implications as well as the positive.  If not, be careful you don’t inadvertently slip into becoming one.


Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP has earned the right to be called THE GROWTH STRATEGIST®. She has won over 2 dozen national and statewide “entrepreneur of the year” awards for the resilient growth of her international businesses across 4 recessions.  Her midsized BtoB service, technology, and distribution clients get on…and then stay on…the published lists of the fastest growing privately held companies. Ambler is in the process of launching her 8th enterprise. All of her current service businesses (strategic planning, executive advisory, growth financing, talk show, speaking, and search) help privately held midsized companies achieve accelerated growth with sustained profitability®. 2012 is Ambler’s 8th year hosting a weekly peer-to-peer-to-peer syndicated on line talk show that features interviews with CEOs/Presidents of midsized companies (typically between $20 and 200 Mil/yr) sharing success tips about the growth strategy-of-the-week. An archive of over 300 interviews is available at www.GrowthStrategistShow.com. She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna or at Aldonna@AMBLER.com

About Aldonna Ambler:
Known as The Growth Strategist®, Aldonna Ambler built and grew a suite of companies to help midsized B2B companies achieve accelerated growth with sustained profitability® A Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), Ambler has addressed over 2000 audiences and hosted a syndicated online talk show about growth strategies for 9 years. As a growth financing intermediary, Ambler raised over $1 Bil dollars for midsized companies. The winner of over 2 dozen prestigious national and statewide "entrepreneur of the year" awards, Ambler is available to speak about “profitable growth during any economy” and/or serve on the board of a growth-oriented privately-held company.

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