A Different View on a Common Question
I’ve been operating in the family business sphere for about half a century now, if you count from my first memory of being told that I was expected to eventually take over the company my Dad founded before I was born.
Back then, in the 1970’s, family businesses were still considered “less good” than corporations, and were typically spoken about with at least some derision.
Happily, times have changed, at least to some degree, and family enterprises are seen as models in some areas, especially insofar as their cultures are often strong and people want to work for them.
There is still, however, an aura of them being “less professional” than their more corporate counterparts.
When Do You Bring In Professionals?
There are ways to see what people search for on Google and other search engines, and I occasionally ask someone skilled at this to share what kinds of questions people typically ask about family business.
Here’s a recent question he sent me:
“At what point should a family business
let professionals run it?”
While this feels a bit like an outdated question, because from where I sit I thought we’d moved past that, the fact that people are asking it means it is worth spending some time on.
My gut says that for anyone asking this question, the word “professional” could likely be swapped out for “non-family member”.
There ARE Professional Family Members Too
The question itself assumes a black and white view of the world where a family member is not professional.
The corollary of that view might then be that a non-family member therefore is a professional.
I hope that I don’t have to explain the absurdity of this view.
But I absolutely do understand where this comes from, and that’s where we’re going to go now.
There certainly are enough examples that we’ve all seen where we’ve witnessed family members working (or at least employed, even if they’re barely working) in jobs for which they are not adequately equipped.
And that’s putting it gently, in some cases.
Family-Owned and/or Family-Operated
Over the years, various people have tried to define “family business” in different ways, and those definitions typically involve some components of family ownership (either currently or eventually) and family operation.
I’m not a stickler for detail in such definitions myself, my motto is, if you think of yourself as a family business, then you are a family business.
But there are of course differences between businesses that are simply “family-owned”, yet not (or no longer) “family-operated”.
I daresay that most examples of those that we think of are probably also viewed as being more professionally run.
But they sure didn’t start that way, did they?
Like So Many Things, “It’s a Process”
Getting back to the initial question, about “when is it time” to “bring in professionals”, this is likely the idea people are getting at.
You certainly can continue to own a business with family members, even if no family members still work for the company.
You can serve on the Board of Directors of a family business as a family member as well, even if you aren’t an owner or employee.
There are certainly a number of advantages to situations like that, because it sure is easier to fire someone that isn’t related to you!
Of course few businesses get to that stage until they’ve been around for a long time, typically until at least the end of the career of the founding generation, and more often after a couple of generations of being family-operated.
A Really Long-Term View
This of course requires a really long-term view, and at some point it may become quite obvious that the business and the family have reached that stage already.
When you get right down to it, what are the chances that the best person in the whole world to run say, Ford Motor Company, is actually a descendant of Henry Ford?
My guess though is that anyone asking this question about a much smaller or younger company is likely doing so because they’re witnessing some family members who just aren’t up to the quality level required to do the job “professionally”.
If that’s the case, you may want to speed up the process of bringing in competent management, because if you don’t, you may not have a profitable company for much longer!