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Key Non-Family Executive Role: The Value of Mr. or Ms. Fix-It

Many family businesses have a “special, most senior” non-family executive, who we call a Mr. or Ms. “Fix-It” -- because that's the role he or she most often plays. One family business owner described the role as “taking care of things.” “Fix-Its” have excellent political skills. They have all the skills of leadership... except the desire to lead.

In just what kind of situations do “Fix-Its” act? They act when senior family members are avoiding conflict. They implement owners' decisions and pick up loose pieces -- complementing the CEO’s capabilities. They inform owners about how others in the organization perceive things. They act when CEOs are ambivalent on decisions. They act when CEOs want to be distanced from decisions. They often serve as mentors for the successors.

“Fix-Its” are also very important symbols. They represent the family's values to the rest of the organization. They symbolize what the owning family wants in non-family associates. They exemplify how the family treats non-family managers.

These valuable, non-family executives also face some delicate challenges. They must mentor successors, yet withdraw before the mentoring relationship naturally wanes. They must avoid getting too close to the family, even though families often attempt to draw them close. If they get too close, they lose their ability to be respected by the family and to be seen by the organization as “professionals.”

They must also be very careful to avoid hearing family secrets. If one family member confides to them a problem with another family member, other family members will soon suspect that the executive is taking sides.

The Fix-Its never want to be perceived as contenders for the CEO job. They can only accept reluctantly, if drafted, in times of an unexpected void. Above all else, they must keep their ego in check and always remember that “blood is thicker....”

“Fix-Its” are not unusual in family businesses...and family businesses that have them find them precious. They often provide the bridge to business growth, professionalization and effective succession.

 

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