Should I… start a family business?

PROS: You know each other very well; Can be passed on to future generations; More likely to treat each other fairly.\nCONS: Might miss some expertise; No clear exit strategy; Family ties could become strained.
Should I… start a family business?
By Neil King
Wed 06 Nov 2013 10:21 AM

What’s the appeal of a family business?

It varies from family to family, but for a lot of people the opportunity to create a legacy and secure employment for future generations is the main appeal. Add to that the advantage of having the people you – theoretically – know and trust the most working with you, and you could have the basis of an open, honest, and mutually beneficial business.

So why don’t more people do it?

Well, not every family is blessed with business nous, good relationships, or consistent goals. For many people, when it comes to business they would rather work with somebody a bit more neutral – removing an emotional tie – and others will want to forge their own success away from their family. Also, a lot of family members have different interests and passions, making it almost impossible to run a happy, successful business.

Should I aim to be like the Al Futtaims, Al Habtoors or Al Ghurairs of the world?

It’s good to aim high, but don’t expect that level of success. The majority of family businesses are very small and don’t encompass numerous companies. It might be worth putting together a long-term plan with realistic targets, starting with one company doing one thing, and not looking too far beyond that too quickly.

So it’s likely the business will stay small?

Not necessarily – it depends on the quality of the idea and the family members. Lots of families have grown and diversified, but just make sure you take the right steps if you’re looking to expand.

So, what should I be careful about?

There’s a long list of things to be aware of. Check the legality of the set-up, possible exit strategies that won’t upset others, the knowledge gaps that need to be filled by non-family, the power structure, the pay structure, the professional boundaries, each person’s role and responsibility,  succession issues, and others.

Will our family relationships suffer?

It’s a big issue within family businesses. Some relationships do suffer, which is why you have to be careful about drawing business and personal lines. You know your family well, and can probably communicate with them in a different way to non-family members, but you’re emotionally tied to them, which could lead to heightened passions and the inability to detach from work.

I’ve been put off.

Don’t disregard it so fast! There are loads of advantages. You can get things done more quickly, there could be greater solidarity, authenticity and trust, and there is lots more control in your hands as a collective unit. If you play it right, a family business can be a huge success.

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