When we think of family businesses, many of us picture the Mom and Pop operation, or the hard-driven entrepreneur who spends long hours at work for the sake of his family. It certainly is a reality for a large number of traditional first generation (commonly called “G1”) companies.
As some of these grow, expand, and mature into what we would normally call SME’s (Small and Medium Enterprises), they become more of what we might call true family businesses in the sense that some members of G2 will often start to assume positions in the company.
The bigger the business gets and the more family members are involved, the more fun for everyone. Or that is the hope. Of course it does not always work out that way in the end.
There is an analogy that some use to describe how each generation differs as the business ages and goes from G1 to G2, and then from G2 to G3. I do not know the exact origin of it, but I learned it in the Family Enterprise Advisor program in which I am currently enrolled.
It is a sports analogy that goes like this. The G1 is a tennis player. Tennis is an individual sport, they are all alone, them against their opponent. They are responsible for their success or failure.
G2 is a different sport. Mom or Dad the tennis player is not what works best anymore, although many hope to find a son or daughter who is just like them to take over, believing that that is what is required. But now the game is basketball, a team sport with a few players playing, as a TEAM. And the leader is not even a player anymore, but the coach.
Playing tennis and coaching basketball are not that similar. When we go from G2 to G3, the analogy continues, we get to what is commonly called the “cousin consortium” stage, where there may be various branches of the family involved. The game changes once again.
Basketball has only five players on the court at a time. The G3 cousin consortium is soccer or football. There are a lot more moving parts that need to be coordinated if the team is going to succeed. Look at the sidelines at a football game, and you will see lots of coaches, with one head coach who must coordinate them all.
We are pretty far from the tennis player and the one-man show now. My Dad was the prototypical entrepreneur and I was very diferent from him. He worried about that and deep down I am sure he had his doubts about how I would be able to succeed him. In the end we sold our operating company and that was fine with me since I did not have the passion for that end of the business.
Generational differences show up in other ways as well. G1 may be more about growth and G2 may be more about maintaining the wealth. Or G1 may be more about growing slowly with little risk, and G2 prefers to pile on risk and grow too fast.
This week I was fortunate to be invited to attend a local gathering at which 3 local family businesses received awards for having successfully transitioned their businesses to another generation. I got to speak with a couple of people who were at the G2-G3 stage in their businesses.
I sensed that just by their presence at this event, they were much more in tune with what is involved in these transitions than those who are in G1 and preparing for G2. It is a lot of work and very complex, and the G3’s seemed to really appreciate how fortunate they were to be in the positions they are in.
Here is hoping that many others get to this stage as well.