IAN FERGUSON: How to avoid strife over family-owned businesses


Ian Ferguson

Many micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in The Bahamas are family-owned sole proprietorships or husband and wife partnerships. There are MSMEs that are quite small, operating in a ‘Mom and Pop’ type fashion, but there are others who have navigated the landscape well enough to grow and expand.

Across the globe, small family-owned businesses have been the catalyst for creating generational wealth, but can also be the cause of great frustration and family strife. This week, we focus attention on tips to help small family businesses sustain and grow their enterprise.

  • Establish boundaries. Setting boundaries can be difficult when family members run a business together. Make it clear that business should be conducted in a business environment, not at the family dinner table or in the bedroom. You will also want to clarify which family members will be involved in the decision-making. Inviting everyone into the inner circle could create chaos. Establish the Board, and identify the chairman, who will ultimately make the final call.

  • Know when to seek external help. No family has all the necessary talent to make a business run successfully. Bringing in employees from outside the family can expand your perspective and fill in the gaps of expertise and skill-sets that family members might not have. Outsiders do not have the sense of entitlement that you might experience with siblings or spouses. They are a healthy addition for most family-owned businesses, as long as you properly screen them.

  • Create a family environment for the outsiders. Working for a family business can be a weird experience. When you hire team members from outside the family, you should not treat them differently from how you would if you were related to them. That means making them feel welcome, but not giving them access to the business bank account. Schedule team meetings where everyone has an equal say, run team-building events that are all-inclusive, and promote people based on merit.

  • Write the vision. Business is business, so put everything in writing. That includes roles and responsibilities, partnerships, compensation, financials and exit strategies. Get it down on paper and make sure all parties sign it to acknowledge their agreement. Documentation prevents misunderstandings that could cause a rift during times when you need everyone on the same page. The paper trail and formal documentation creates the safeguards you need even among relatives.

  • Plan for succession. Consider the Bahamian companies who has survived the past 100 years. These are very few in number. Drawing up a plan for how your business will continue into the next generation is vital and necessary. By documenting this, you will be able to save relationships and avoid conflicts. No one wants their children fighting with each other over money. Make sure everyone knows who gets what when you decide to exit from the business.

• NB: Ian R Ferguson is a talent management and organisational development consultant, having completed graduate studies with regional and international universities. He has served organisations, both locally and globally, providing relevant solutions to their business growth and development issues. He may be contacted at tcconsultants@ coralwave.com.


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