Why Can a Family-Owned Business Fail?
It so happens that a very large percentage of automotive dealerships around the world happen to be family-owned businesses. Having said that, there are a great many issues concerning family-owned companies, mainly regarding succession and management, which must be dealt with so that the company can accomplish the goals that the family sets.
Autologica presents a series of articles titled “Common Problems in Family-owned Businesses” based on an interview between J.C. Aimetta, an expert and coach who specializes in family-owned companies, and Al McClymont, CEO of Autologica Dealer Management Systems (www.autologica.net).
J.C. Aimetta is 46 years old and has dedicated the past 15 to helping owners and directors of over 65 family-owned small and medium-sized businesses manage growth, professionalize their management, and prevent problems with succession. He has been a negotiator in family conflicts and the sale of family-owned businesses. Mr. Aimetta teaches the subject in graduate and post-graduate courses in 3 Argentine universities and has given conferences in Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
Here are some thoughts that emerged from the interview.
Al McClymont: I know this is a broad subject to be treated in such a short time, but I hope we can go through some of the main points. The first thing I would like to ask you is: What do you think are the main reasons a family-owned business can fail?
J.C. Aimetta: Well, the main reason is that the owner and manager roles get mixed up. Thus, an endless number of confusions occur as regards to who is the owner and who is the manager, the administrator.
For most family businesses the role is only one. Therefore, whenever you ask someone, Why do you run this business?, the answer is: Because it is mine. And what empowers you to run the business? The fact that it is mine.
Al McClymont: It’s also important to analyze this from a management and operational point of view side, for example, when the sons and daughters of the owners reach age-appropriate for them to work in the company.
J.C. Aimetta: Well, what happens is that the new generations evolve and the children inherit the same notion and believe that they can manage the business simply because they own it. As the children are generally more, two, three, four… a company cannot have four managers. And it is at this moment that most confusions arise.
Another thing to bear in mind is that in the long run the family always grows more than the company. In other words, more people are intending to live from a business that is not growing as fast as the family. If we also consider the in-laws that sometimes, not always, want to work in the family business, conflicts may arise.
Furthermore, we have to bear in mind that job evaluations are done under emotional parameters. That is to say, whenever a relative is hired, it is very difficult to punish lackluster performance, a poor job. Because an emotional cost is paid, a “happiness” cost.
In a nutshell, a family-owned business maintains a delicate balance between happiness and efficiency, profitability, and affection. As the business grows, its owners must try to gently tip the balance to one side. Because it is impossible to simultaneously achieve maximum profitability and maximum happiness, and make the growing family’s entire happiness depend on one particular business.
In the next part of this interview, we’ll talk about problems that may arise in a family-owned business when one family member wants to sell their share of the company.
By: Al McClymont
Al McClymont is the founder and CEO of Autologica S.A.
J.C. Aimetta is a consultant to more than 65 small and medium family-owned businesses.
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