Many of the family issues that business families face come from the relationships between different generations. After a certain number of years, the eventual changes that will be required to move the business from one generation of leadership to the next, just become inevitable.

But in some families, where siblings work together, the intra-generational issues come to the forefront, and become the focal point for long periods of time. When you think about it, two family members from different generations might work together for two or three decades, but two siblings may be working together for four or five.

I thought about this subject this week, when I had lunch with two brothers, who have been working together for as long as I have known them, and that’s about 25 years. I will call them Jack and Ron, and they run a family business unlike any other that I know.

I am not talking about the industry that they are in, but the way their business seems like a true family business, in the way the two brothers have made the company their life’s work, and the way they complement each other in terms of skill sets.

The other thing that sets them apart is the fact that neither of them has any children, so there is no succeeding generation. They started this business without any direct help from their parents, have run it togther for some forty years, but there are no obvious heirs to whom they can pass their assets.

I don’t know any other single-generation sibling partnerships, but these two brothers work really well together, have amassed a number of assets by watching every dollar they spend, and finding great value in a variety of places.

They have numerous real estate holdings all over the city, and they can tell you stories about deadbeat tenants for hours on end.

Jack is five years older than Ron, but I had to ask them who was the older brother. Ron is more of a tinkerer, fixing machines and seemingly making something out of nothing, while Jack is the legal expert, and knows his way around the legal system better than most lawyers. I guess that when you have tenants who don’t pay their rent, you end up learning about the legal system pretty quickly.

But this blog is about family business, and I have known these guys for quite a while, and I felt compelled to write about them because even though they are not your run-of-the-mill multi-generational company, they do exhibit something that I find truly inspiring when I watch them work together.

Their parents were always very important to them, even though they were not involved in the business. And their parents clearly did a great job in instilling the right attitude in their sons.

There does not seem to be any jealousy between Jack and Ron, any ill will or desire to seem superior in any way. They work together the way any parent would be proud to see their children work together. Maybe if they had children following in their footsteps it would be different.

They have their own challenges due to their situation, though. With no heirs, it will probably be a charitable foundation that ends up owning most of the assets down the road, but that needs to be set up, and many decisions and steps need to be taken to make sure that happens, and will be handled the way they want.

I have no doubt that they will make all their decisions together, without much fuss, since they have been getting along so well together for as long as I have known them.

Getting along with your family, and those that you work with, is pretty much one of the keys to happiness, isn’t it? Too many business families seem to forget this.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.