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Guest blog: Oscars for family business

Posted by Taylor Rogers on March 4, 2014

(Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of columns by family business leaders and advisors with information and ideas about topics unique to family businesses, developed in conjunction with the Conway Center for Family Business. Succession planning is vital to every family business, so we begin our series with this topic.) 

Bea Wolper

by Bea Wolper

We have asked this before… Why not have Oscars for family business? 

Every year we look forward to the Oscars. What movie will win this year? Who will be the best actor, best director, etc.? We wait until the night of the Oscars and throughout the evening. Finally, the winners are announced! But in the real world family businesses have winners every year, and here are some of my picks: 

Best Actor: If the President of the Company is male, this Oscar would go to him for his strength in running the Company and helping it grow and prosper. The President of a family business is often the leader of the Company and also one of the owners (or the only owner), thus having Management, Leadership and Ownership in one person. 

Best Actress: If the President of the Company is a woman, this Oscar would go to her for the same reasons! 

Best Supporting Actor: The brother of the President who works in the Company, and even though he did not get the top position, puts aside normal sibling rivalry. He supports and respects his sibling and because of his continuing help and encouragement, he will get this Oscar.

Best Supporting Actress: This Oscar should go to the Chief Financial Officer, who often is a woman and who may or may not be a family member. If a family member, even though she did not get the top position, she puts aside normal sibling rivalry. If not a family member, she earns the trust and respect from all family members by remaining neutral and having the highest integrity.

Best Supporting Role Over Many Years: This Oscar historically goes to Mom. Mom is the “CeO” of many family businesses (Chief emotional Officer.) When disputes and complaints sprout among and between the male founder, children, siblings, cousins, relatives, spouses and family members not working in the business, Mom hears them all. They come and complain, they come and whine, and they come and want Mom to fix it. “Please talk to _____ (Dad, brother, sister, etc) because I can’t.” Mom is usually in the middle and torn between family members, trying to make everyone happy — or at least content. For all her unpaid (usually) family business support and constant stress, Mom wins Best Supporting Role. 

Best Screen Play: Those family businesses that have Family Business Councils and undertake strategic planning and thought-out communication will have the best roadmap for the future. This planning may include the adoption of Buy Sell Agreements, Close Corporation Agreements and estate plans, including Dynasty Trusts. Consequently, the family businesses with short-term and long-range planning win Best Screen Play. 

Best Cinematography: This Oscar is for the family business with the best website. Each successful link provides knowledge for marketing or sales, the history of the company and information about the family and its business. This Oscar goes to the family business with its website linked to the Conway Center for Family Business! 

Best Sound Effects: For those Family Business Councils that discuss the hard topics such as compensation of family members, entrance requirements into the family business, requirements for advancement and division of ownership… the “sounds” of the Family Business Council create an atmosphere for success. Family Business Councils win Best Sound Effects.

Best Song: Many family businesses have written a “family values and mission statement” that identifies and sets forth the family’s vision for the future and “what we stand for.” The successful family business adopts a written outline of agreed-upon principles and governance structures. The company with the best vision, values and mission statement will win this Oscar. 

Best Special Effects: This Oscar goes to the family business with the best family council retreat: communication, fun, games, education and history. Each family member participates in dialogue and exercises that encourage a sense of belonging and an exchange of ideas.

Best Director: The Leader of the Family Business wins the Oscar for Best Director. Ultimately, it is he or she who guides the planning concerning the next leader, owner and manager of the family business. Each Leader is constantly reminded to lead by example, to share his or her vision and to help strategically plan the future of the company. The Leader of the Family Business moves the company in a positive direction. 

And, the Best Movie (Company): This Oscar goes to all successful Family Businesses. Family Businesses overlap two major connected but distinct systems: business and family. In the U.S., more than 60 percent of the Gross National Product comes from Family Businesses. Family firms comprise 80 to 90 percent of all business enterprises in North America, and a majority of all founders of family businesses believe that one or two of his/her next generation will run the family business. Family businesses are much more than the small “mom-and-pop grocery store” down the block. They are some of the most successful companies in the U.S., the best employers and the future of our country’s economy.

Bea Wolper is a co-founder of the Conway Center for Family Business and serves as an Advisory Board member. She facilitates the Center’s Women in Family Business and Succession Planning Peer Groups. She is a partner in the law firm of Emens & Wolper LLP, in Columbus, Ohio. Her practice focuses on succession planning, estate planning, general corporate law, contracts and the buying and selling of businesses, with an emphasis on family-owned businesses. Wolper and her husband, Dick Emens, the Center’s Executive Director, co-authored Family Business Basics: The Guide to Family Business Financial Success.

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