Family Matters and Happy Holidays

We just celebrated one of the biggest family holidays of the year—Thanksgiving. Susan and I hope that you had a chance to reflect on the blessings of this last year and were able to connect with family in some way. This is the start of a wonderful time of year for getting together with friends and family, decorating to make the eyes fill with wonder, music to uplift our spirits and have us singing along whether we can carry a tune or not. We wish you the most wonderful, enjoyable, and comforting season of holidays.

Holiday Season
  • Thanksgiving November 25
  • Hanukkah November 28-December 6
  • St. Nicholas December 6 (Sveti Nichola December 19)
  • Winter Solstice December 21
  • Christmas December 25
  • Kwanzaa December 26-January 1
  • New Years Day January 1
  • Chinese New Year, February 1, the start of the year of the tiger

Of course, this is also a hectic time for finishing up the year, arranging all those special parties, facing down crowds at stores, or clicking to get the best items bought at super low prices and delivered to the door in record time. It’s the time of year to estimate taxes and make last minute purchases and donations to minimize tax bills. It’s time to put together strategies and budgets for the next year. It can be hard to relax when there is so much to do in so little time. 

While spending time with my family in Branson, Missouri for Thanksgiving, I found myself gaining insights into

  • Family
  • Family Businesses
  • Business Families
  • Enterprising Families
  • Family Legacy

Family

The fun parts of family include the warm, strong embraces of people we love deep down and often have not interacted with for far too long. It includes the laughter as we sit and talk for long periods of time. It includes the discussion of memories and the banter of new thoughts and insights. It includes getting to know the younger clan that have now become young adults and started their careers. 

Alas, all is not “sugar and spice and everything nice” when families get together. There are tense moments, sulking over harsh or poorly chosen words, banter that turns derogatory, family members that are estranged, family members that are sick, dying, or passed and are still being mourned. Families are often held together by one or two strong-willed individuals that prevail upon others. 

Every family has some set of characteristics that people connect with. I know I heard several times during my time in Branson such things as, “after all, he’s a Menig” to explain away some observance of character or behavior. Even someone that marries into a family can, over time, take on similar characteristics and behaviors. It can go something like, “before I joined this family I never . . . but now I do.” It’s often called culture, but I’m not sure it runs as deep as the 7 Elements of Culture of a nation or religion. https://vimeo.com/manage/videos/271171591 

Family Business

As I’ve begun to focus some of my work on privately owned businesses, I have come into contact with many that are family businesses. It can be a startup by a husband/wife, a growing business with two or more brothers working side-by-side, a first generation family business held for decades, or a multi-generation one that has been around for a century or more. I recently posted some thoughts on public, private, and family owned/controlled businesses here https://www.linkedin.com/posts/paulmenig_what-kind-of-business-are-you-do-you-have-activity-6867537155829452800-05k4 

Branson is filled with entertainers that are all in the same family. Some are just 4 performers that are related, and some have over 50 family members performing. We’ve seen some of those families as they have grown over the last 25 years. As both a business and a family, they have had to address members that no longer want to be part of the “family business” but want to remain a member of the family. Just as with families in general, some become estranged from the business and the family, choosing to go their own way. 

I can see that it takes much more effort to keep a family business going than other privately owned and controlled businesses. The opportunities for feelings being hurt are much higher, in my opinion. Finding a way to encourage the best that each family member has to offer, while being part of the whole, seems more challenging than encouraging engagement from people in a business that are not tied together by the biological ties of family. In both cases, a strong-willed and caring person is needed to keep the whole together.

I saw this in the discussion with one of the leads of a performing family in Branson. This individual appeared to have stepped up to replace the original strong-willed family member of the family without losing sight of all those involved. The individual had a firm grasp on the customers they perform for and was working to balance the need of individual family members to take their artistic talents in new directions while recognizing that some of their audience were not willing to take that step. This individual expressed his concern for his immediate family members, the employees, and the 25 families of those employees that rely on he and his family to provide for them. He recognized the unique talents of each family member and each was trusted with handling their portion of the regularly changing act such as choreography, musical arrangement, sight and sound, marketing, and more.

Business Families

That brings me to this term—business families. In a presentation I made for the Austin Family Business Program at Oregon State University (https://vimeo.com/manage/videos/394697448), I had an exercise shown below.

It’s very difficult to separate the business and the family. Many of us take our business home even when it is not a family owned/controlled business. For those that are in a business, it is even more difficult to separate the two. 

A business family recognizes individuals are different and may not want to be in the “family business” but want to be in business. One way of accomplishing this is to have different family members involved in different aspects of the business. There can be less disagreement and more trust in the work of each family member if they are in charge of different functions or departments within the family business. Just as with any business, getting the management team to work together and trust each other is important.

The next step is to start a new business within a business. Consider that the auto companies are in multiple business, all related to transportation in some fashion. GM makes and sells cars, finances those cars, and services those cars. Now it also provides data about those cars and emergency services if in a crash. It takes different skills to run each of those areas. Finance and data services are actually new businesses within the larger business. The same thing can be done within a family business.

Enterprising Families

That brings me to the concept of “enterprising families” that continue the family business by recognizing the talents and interests of younger family members to strike out on their own or otherwise make fundamental changes to the family business. https://www.industryweek.com/leadership/article/21119925/does-your-family-business-have-what-it-takes-to-endure Since family business owners/leaders are often risk averse, they may see themselves in the business of making CDs rather than in the business of distributing music. A younger member of a family is likely to notice the pending change in media and approaches to distribution before the ones that started the CD portion of the business. Odd as it may be, the older family members struck out, often on their own, when the industry was changing. But now that their wealth is so invested in what was, they are reluctant to invest in what will be. Giving the younger family members the encouragement to follow their instincts, while mentoring them to make well-founded decisions, can help the company continue to innovate, thrive, and survive through multiple generations. Yes, you might provide monetary backing for the new area, or you may challenge them to bootstrap it or get some level of outside interest or support. You get to choose. 

Family Legacy

That brings me to the idea of what legacy you want to leave. One of the most memorable executive training exercises for me was to write my obituary while I was only about 35 years old. Early in my career, I was given a chance to project the course of my life and career and decide what I wanted my legacy to be. I can assure you that a bit of it is still true, but I have some very different ideas now, such as how long I will live.

For many, the legacy is tied to how the wealth is used in philanthropic activities. Here in Portland, for instance, Nike, Reser’s Fine Foods, Columbia Sportswear, and Bob’s Red Mill are examples of companies that are or were large family owned/controlled entities. All of them have made significant contributions to charity in the area. They want to be known for more than the products they produce, more than the emotions enhanced by using their products. Long after their names are no longer on the business, they will be on buildings and scholarships.

Even if your business lives on after you have passed, it may not live on forever. What legacy do you want to leave? Alfred Nobel is a good example. His father’s family business was passed to his younger brother. That business helped make armaments during the Crimean War. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and had his own company. He had established 90 armament factories before his death. “His decision to posthumously donate the majority of his wealth to found the Nobel Prize has been credited at least in part to him wanting to leave behind a better legacy.“ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Nobel 

Our biological families can be challenging at times. Even those we choose as our life families of friends and colleagues, can be stressed at this time of year. Those without families and friends face the hardest of times when others are celebrating.