"Creating Peace of Mind in the Family Business"
by Ronald C. Reece, Ph.d.
Whether the recipe is for gunpowder or a soufflé, the mix of ingredients is the secret to safety and success. The same thing holds true when you mix blood and business - you either have a thriving company that will pass smoothly and successfully through the generations or you have a powerful concoction that can explode or fall flat ruining a company's future.
Professionals from many different disciplines - law, behavioral science, finance, accounting and organizational development - have all realized that planning for the future of a business involves much more than "who takes over." Family dynamics, succession planning, wealth transfer, conflict resolution, appropriate and best use of non-family employees and strategic planning must all be addressed. The result is an innovative approach known as family business consultation that encompasses all of the above issues.
John and Jo Lyn Wood, founders and principals of Greenwood, Inc., an industrial plant services contractor with home office in Greenville, SC, recently came to a crossroads with their company. The company, which was founded in 1990, started with only seven employees and has grown exponentially to employ almost 400 people. John and Jo Lyn realized that they did not have a plan in place to ensure the future of the company.
With four children, two of whom have entered the business, and a highly skilled management team to consider the Woods knew the time had come to address the issue of how the company would grow into the future.
"At my age (57) you start thinking of what happens when you retire, or die or become incapacitated," said John Wood. "I knew I only wanted to work for seven to ten more years and wanted the peace of mind that having a plan in place would bring."
"It was important to me to offer our daughters and sons the opportunity to come into the business if that was the career path they chose," added Jo Lyn Wood. "Another major concern to me was estate planning, By putting together a comprehensive plan we were able to address all of these issues."
The Woods started the process of creating their future by attending the Upstate Family Business Forum, which is a series of seminars held at Furman University. Many privately held companies facing the same challenges attend such programs.
One result of these seminars was the Woods' introduction to Ron Reece, principal of Reece & Associates, a psychologist, and family business consultant. The seminars had illustrated very clearly that the help of a facilitator would be instrumental in the process and they hired Reece to guide them through it.
"So many companies wait until there is a crisis and then try to plan for the future. The problem is that then they're in a reactive mode, scrambling making decisions without enough thought and clear communication. By planning when things were running smoothly, the decisions the Woods made were well thought-out and based on a unified approach," said Reece.
Reece has developed a broad-based approach to business consulting which is a model that any family or privately held company can utilize. His role is to be the coach and maintain a focus on the areas of transition planning such as visioning, estate, or wealth transfer, risk management, leadership development, business planning, etc. Other professionals (lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, etc.) are asked to participate in the process at various points. The process starts with a series of interviews conducted by Reece with owners, family members, management, and even customers to establish each of these groups' unique perceptions of the company. A major part of this situation appraisal is what Reece refers to as EIDD or Emotional and Interpersonal Due Diligence.
The next step was to organize a family retreat. With Reece facilitating, the family came together for a weekend that helped them clarify the goals they wanted to achieve together, develop their own personal career plans, create a family mission statement, and define their future roles in the company.
"The retreat was the highlight of the whole process. There were so many assumptions and questions that our daughters and sons had that had never before been addressed," said John. "They had no guarantee that they would be the ones to take over the company, yet the desire was there for three out of the four. In this process we learned that our oldest daughter Kelly wanted to be involved, but her dream was to pursue a career in acting."
"The retreat gave her the forum to put out on the table what she really wanted to do with her life. As for the others we have now defined their future with the company as our successors, with our oldest son Brad taking over my position as President when I leave the firm, my second daughter Laura taking over Jo Lyn's position in personnel and as Secretary/Treasurer. The role of our youngest son Nathan will be determined over the next few years. He joined the company in an entry level job in 2001," he continued.
Once the family had agreed on a plan, the next step was to bring management in on the process. Reece coordinated another retreat that included both family and management. The results of the family retreat were discussed openly and candidly with a formal announcement of the family succession and direction.
"Our willingness to communicate openly with management took the veil of secrecy away and put to rest doubts and questions. Sharing this information with the management team created a much greater synergy," said John.
Having established the family succession and direction, Reece's approach next moves to strategic planning. Sessions were held to determine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the company or S.W.O.T. The corporate direction was defined and task forces were formed to start building a solid business plan.
Each task force, comprised of family and non-family members, took on different segments of the company including technology, human resources, organizational structure, leadership, and management succession, marketing and teamwork. The result was a business plan based on the collective best thinking. The next step is implementing the plan and the company is already moving forward in a positive direction.
"My advice to anyone planning to go through this process is to let down your guard and be open and honest. Ron was able to help us by first understanding the various stakeholder perspectives along with the nuances and dynamics of our relationships with each other. Once those parameters were established, developing the business side of the plan fell into place much more easily. It was and continues to be well worth the time, energy, and money. Ron keeps reminding us of the three primary ingredients for a safe and successful mix of blood and business: Regular Planned Family Meetings, A Strategic Business Plan, and an outside Board of Directors. We have the first two working and will complete a family council structure before moving to discussion and planning for an outside board. We know where we are headed and that gives Jo Lyn and me greater peace of mind," said John.
Jo Lyn agrees. "Using a facilitator made the process much more organized and focused. Because we were being guided through the process, we could not just walk away when things got tough. We stayed on track and have defined the steps that need to be taken to grow our company into the future."
© Reece & Associates, P.A.