Family Business and Family Fun
By John Ward, Ph.D.
How much business should we conduct at the family reunion? How much fun should we have at the shareholder's meeting? Should we be efficient or should we be careful? Many families wonder about these questions. Few actually address the implications and make conscious decisions. The considerations depend, in part, on your point of view. The conclusion may well be different for different families.
Family Active in Management
It's important to keep the family well informed about the business. We need everyone's commitment and enthusiasm.
We also worry about how to justify the time and expense. Making family meetings more business-like seems to be more legitimate.
Family Not Active in Management
Yes, but the times together are so intense. We always try to do so much. The business meetings are taking more and more of our time.
With all the kids around, it's distracting to focus on business issues. Besides, it's a great chance to be with nieces and nephews.
Both purposes are equally important: business education and family fun. Sometimes, by mixing them too much together, neither is served very well.
The right blend depends a lot on particular family circumstances. How many and how young are the kids? How often does all the family get together? How much discretionary money and time does everyone have?
One model we like is to have one significant business meeting a year that is undistracted by younger kids or parties. The meeting would be like an "annual shareholders meeting," during which shareholders can ask questions and management can see the shareholders' interest and commitment.
There needs to be more contact with the business than one formal meeting per year. We encourage business leadership to write a quarterly letter keeping shareholders abreast of performance, achievements and challenges.
Then, once a year, or maybe once every two years, the family would gather for a playful, family-only reunion. Business talk should be as off-limits as possible.
The family can also relax and enjoy each other more often. Perhaps a dinner before the shareholders meeting could be social. And surely, a newsletter or special holiday celebration would be valuable.
Our main point is to pause and consider the question of how well your family is balancing fun and work. If in doubt, we find that family shareholder relations are strengthened more by fun than by work. Besides, lots of business information can be communicated by mail, assuming shareholders pledge to read the business reports conscientiously and give feedback to the managers to show that they care.
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