A unique strength of family businesses is that they often focus as much on the triumphs and challenges of generations past as their aspirations for generations to come. Many family companies see anniversaries as opportunities to reflect on their history and values.
Why is it Important?
“It is easy to take for granted and overlook the ‘secret sauce’ that makes up a family enterprise’s competitive advantage,” explained Amy Schuman, FBCG senior advisor. “It can feel so obvious, so ubiquitous, that it’s almost silly to name what’s special. But then, as the generations pass away, it becomes equally impossible to remember what was so special. So, preserving the stories, the little details, the specifics, is really important.”
The ways families commemorate their milestones and preserve their history are as unique as the businesses they steward. We’ve rounded up a few ideas inspired by our client families:
- Establish a foundation
- Create a museum display
- Hire a historian to write a book
- Curate a photo display of important events and current company happenings
- Produce a video with family member interviews, historical photos and stories of the company’s inception
- Host a party with employees, special guests and community members
- Create limited-edition anniversary products
- Capture the younger generation interviewing the senior generation via video
- Take a “class photo” of employees every five years
No matter the vessel, just be sure to bottle your family’s secret sauce!
How FBCG Wrote its Autobiography
By Craig Aronoff, co-founder of The Family Business Consulting Group
As we approached FBCG’s 25th anniversary, we believed that our history warranted recording. It was our intent from our founding that we would seek to build an independent organization that would stand far beyond our tenure. Reaching a quarter century and within sight of a complete turnover of ownership and leadership within the organization, we felt that our goal was achieved and deserved celebrating. More than congratulating ourselves, however, we wanted the anniversary to provide perspective and understanding for successor generations who would be carrying FBCG forward. To that end, I volunteered to compile our history.
When I began, I didn’t know the form my efforts would take. But as I thought through our story and collected all the information I could find, I realized that I had a book to write. I also recognized that the history should reflect experiences of the scores of people involved over the years. I invited everyone to contribute to the effort, to share how they had become members of FBCG and about their experiences in the organization and what it meant to them. In some cases, I asked specific individuals to write about specific episodes in which they had direct involvement. I took responsibility for the overall narrative, for editing all submissions, and knitting all the pieces together. Karen King of our FBCG staff, collected information from our files (monthly financial reports, board agenda and minutes, reports from our managing principal, and anything else that looked useful, as well as photos, documents, logos and other artwork) and coordinated final editing and production.
Having contributions from over two dozen colleagues, past and present, not only enriched the outcome but also provided a variety of voices and perspectives. It prompted our selection of the book’s title and allowed us accurately to describe it as “An Autobiography,” written by the organization about the organization for the organization.
While we didn’t dig up every skeleton, our intent was to offer an honest assessment — warts and all — of our journey. We pride ourselves on our transparency and the record of our history should be no different. We sought not only to talk about our values but hoped writing would exemplify our values of inclusiveness, opportunity, meritocracy, equality, quality, professionalism, generosity, compassion, and commitment to each other, FBCG, and especially, our clients.
The book was completed in advance of our August 2019 25th anniversary all-firm meeting. The transcript (words only, not the book) was emailed to all members of the firm as required reading before the meeting so that we could use the material as a case study for in-depth discussion over two days. The result was a more complete understanding of who we are, what we stand for, how we came to be, what we’ve become, and where we are going. The book itself, all 152 pages with loads of pictures and illustrations, was distributed at the meeting, signed by co-founders John Ward and me.
I admit that a great deal of work went into the writing, editing and review, and production of the book. I found the effort to be personally meaningful and gratifying. We used only internal resources and found an economical print-on-demand publishing alternative that kept direct costs very low.
The result is an attractive, comprehensive, readable resource that will serve as long as FBCG lives. And perhaps, our organization’s life will be better and longer now that it has its own “Bible” for reference, guidance, and maybe even a little inspiration.
Celebrating Together by Sharing Stories
The Family Business Consulting Group team gathered to celebrate 25 years of service and collaboration at our quarterly meeting in Chicago this past August. One of the highlights of our time together was a twilight river cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady, a fourth-generation, family owned company. The evening was filled with sharing memories from our past and toasts to the future marked with lots of laughter and a few tears in between. As we looked back on our journey, we were most humbled to grow and learn from the families we’ve had the honor of serving over the past 25 years.
True to form as our culture advocate, FBCG co-founder John Ward summed it up best in his reflection to our team:
I salute you so proudly. Twenty five years: A generation of time, WOW!
25 years of faithful devotion to our values and purpose;
25 years of precious learning together;
25 years of mutual respect for staff and consultants;
25 years of unselfish collaboration;
25 years of serving 2500 clients and likely 25,000 family members and 500,000 stakeholders;
25 years of contributing knowledge to our youthful field; and
25 years of stewarding FBCG’s continuity.
In our work we have humbly dared to share who we are and what we believe in:
We respect private enterprise;
We seek the empathy to be fair to all our constituents;
We are intellectually curious for our young field;
We promote giving back; and
We are optimistic and hopeful in spirit.
We’ve been so privileged to learn from some of the most remarkable people and ingenious enterprises of all time. We are honored to share that learning with others, and generations to come. I truly believe we, all of us, have made a lasting difference.