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Who Controls the Culture?

Is culture a management task or an ownership responsibility? The debate can get heated when the participants are a family member chairman and a non family CEO. Family Chair *Our family's greatest interest in the business are its values and culture. And we are eager to represent the culture at company events and to assure that future managers share our values. *Maybe you're right: we certainly don't want to chase away the best executives and we need you to be devoted to what you're doing. Non Family CEO *No, I must be able to set the culture. After all, I'm responsible for strategy and performance, and culture is a critical tool to get there. And I need the future managers to be selected and developed by me and my staff. *Yes, thank you, that's right. Even if I accept and embrace the family's culture and values, as I think I do, we need to attract the best managers and respect our different roles. Maybe not. The family, we believe, must set the values and contribute to the culture. Fundamentally that's what makes a family business a family business. Otherwise the family as owners will be chased away. On the other hand, the fears of the CEO are warranted. The family must do a great job of defining the culture in a way that is attractive to top outside talent. The Board has to select a CEO who embraces the owners' values and culture. Managing the family business' culture requires from family leaders great instincts, self confidence and the ability to evaluate executive talent. One of ownership's central roles is to help non-family executives recognize and appreciate the great benefits of the family business' unique culture, even if it means that owners must collectively assert themselves on culture-related issues. Finding that balance between CEO and family leaders is seldom clearly articulated and very hard to accomplish, but it is a key to long-term success.

 

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