Reflections on the Family Business Advisor
As was announced in last month’s issue, this is the final installment of the Family Business Advisor® as a monthly newsletter. As with all transitions, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the journey. We have known each other and worked together since 1975—35 years of shared thinking and writing, projects and programs, and creating and growing a publishing and consulting firm in the service of family enterprise.
In the early days, there was no “field” of family business—just a few pioneers recognizing the unique challenges of building successful businesses owned by successful families across generations. In fact, in those pioneering days, family business “experts” were largely focused on succession from entrepreneurs who grew up during the Great Depression, won World War II, and came to be appreciated as “the greatest generation” to their “baby boomer” offspring. In those days we focused on getting the older generation to “let go,” preparing the next generation for leadership, and smoothing the process for the passing of the baton.
Since 1991, when the first sample issue of the Family Business Advisor® was produced, we’ve increasingly recognized that succession is rarely one-dimensional. Instead, generational transitions encompass many issues: leadership in multiple dimensions; the evolution of structures and processes to enhance management, governance and family development; the development of knowledge to more effectively deal with strategic, financial and other interrelated business issues; and the emergence of skills and perspective to achieve productive family relations. Through this process, we’ve seen both management and ownership became more team-oriented, typically benefitting the business and the family. Over the years of our consulting work we have also seen the pace of strategic evolution continue to accelerate, shifting management’s focus from consistency and control to innovation and continuous improvement. In addition, governance has become more formalized and more likely to involve independent directors.
In early 1991, we were sitting at O’Hare Airport discussing the developing field of family business. Business Week had briefly published a bi-weekly family business newsletter, seemingly repackaging news with a family business angle gathered by their reporters. Family Business Magazine had come out as a glossy publication—a sort of Inc. meets Psychology Today—but these magazines depended on advertising revenue, which didn’t adequately develop. Though Family Business would later be reborn as a quarterly, it also ceased publication.
We decided to publish a monthly newsletter at lower cost, without advertising, devoted to supporting business families. Our approach was that we would write about family business not as journalists but in terms of lessons learned from our experience in working with family businesses as consultants and educators. Ross Nager, head of Arthur Andersen’s Center for Family Business (and a brilliant, insightful writer) joined our team. We put together a sample issue, direct mailed it to a few thousand family businesses and waited for the mail (only snail mail in those days). And the subscriptions came in.
Here’s what we said to our readers in our first issue:
The family business is distinct. It is so complex that it is misunderstood even by its members. Its roles in our society and our economy are vastly under-appreciated. Understanding, insights—even empathy—are needed. The purpose of The Family Business Advisor® is to help all—in and out of the family business—to understand it better. Our goal is to share valuable lessons from the experiences of others, and the special insights and research provided by experts.
Each person or role associated with the family business has a distinct perspective. We want our readers to comprehend and to appreciate all of these different points of view.
Each business weathers common challenges and responds to similar opportunities. We want our readers to benefit from the successes and failures of others.
We know each business and each family member is unique in many ways. Still we believe that thoughtful readers can draw from others and adapt that knowledge to their own situations. For successful entrepreneurial families, that has always been a key to success.
We want our readers to get value from every article in this publication. Sometimes that value will come from saving money by using ideas found here. Sometimes you will gain a special management tip that helps you better run your business. Perhaps you’ll better understand why people think and act the way they do, and by applying those insights, improve relationships, smooth conflict or ease pain.
We’re not interested in telling stories for their own sake, or peeping in family business windows. We constructively share the experiences of family businesses everywhere so that you can more effectively manage your business and your family.
We have a bias. We hold deep and genuine respect for the strengths and meaning of the family in business. Our keen hope is to help as many family firms as we can to prosper. We hope to help families more successfully achieve critical transitions with less pain and less cost.
We’ve learned by serving hundreds of family enterprises. Fortunately, those we serve have abundant good will and sincere caring.
We have a point of view. Our values will unquestionably show. We will offer explicit and clearly identifiable editorial commentary. Examining cases, addressing relevant problems, tracking multidimensional issues, and drawing conclusions that you can use is our constant goal.
If you suspect unabashed enthusiasm for this mission, you are correct. If you feel us reaching out to you through these pages, please reach back. We seek personal attachment, interaction, a way to share our insights and knowledge—and a way to gain insights and to learn from you. We aren’t just selling subscriptions to a newsletter. We really intend to be your family business advisor. Let us know how well we are serving you in that capacity, and how we can serve you better.
For nearly two decades, our work and this publication have followed that philosophy. There were changes; Arthur Andersen ceased to exist (although Ross, now with Sentinel Trust, remained involved as a deeply respected colleague). Our publishing company was merged into our consulting firm— The Family Business Consulting Group®—and we began to involve our consulting colleagues in our publications. Jennifer Pendergast and Stephanie Brun de Pontet were superb successor executive editors. Our original managing editor retired and was replaced by Jane Aronoff, giving the publication another “family business touch” until her retirement. And technology began to impact the expectations of our audience, our ability to market the newsletter, and the relevance of our monthly eight-page effort.
So we have coped with change, dealt with succession, known the impact of technology on strategy—all things that our readers experience in their own businesses every day. As an organization, we are stronger than ever. Please see www.thefbcg.com for all our past articles and new publications.
Our readers should know that we will continue to fulfill our mission—sharing with family businesses lessons we’ve been privileged to learn by serving tens of thousands of family businesses through publications, education and consulting. As we indicated in our original issue, our desire is to start a dialogue, and we hope that the new platform of content delivery through free articles and a more active blog will facilitate a more robust discussion.
Thanks to all—subscribers, subjects, and partners—for the pleasure of producing the Family Business Advisor® over all these years.