The Brilliant Podcast – Making Family Businesses Work – with Philip Pryor

Posted by Deb Croucher | November 8, 2019

In this Brilliant Podcast, Brilliant Digital Founder, Deb Croucher, talks to Family Business Central CEO, Philip Pryor. Philip is a specialist adviser to family businesses in Australia and New Zealand. He grew up in Blenheim, a beautiful part of the South Island of NZ where his family ran a travel and real estate business.

After studying psychology at Otago University, Philip then carved out a career in governance and travelled the world, giving specialist advice to governments, universities and large corporates. In recent years he’s come back to his roots, helping family businesses thrive and prosper.

Deb and Phil delve into the fundamentals of running a successful family business and the pitfalls working relatives should look out for… and they take a few interesting detours through life, including growing up in New Zealand, along the way.


Have that critical conversation about your will - now

Have that critical conversation about your will - now

“In Family Business when you talk about what’s going on, you need to have as much transparency as you possibly can. My mother made various decisions in her will. She died quite suddenly. And when the will was read, my brother’s name wasn’t included. He was utterly devastated. The result was that he and I didn’t actually talk to each other for about five or six years.

Working with a family business recently, I asked the father what was the split up of the shares. And he said, ‘25% to my daughter and 75% to my son’, and all hell broke loose.

I said to the father, ‘Thank god we’re having this critical conversation now. Because if you died and the will was like that, the daughter would never have spoken to your son again.’”

Growing up in Blenheim, New Zealand’s sunniest town

Growing up in Blenheim, New Zealand’s sunniest town

“Blenheim was completely different to what it is today. When I was growing up it was a sheep and cropping area. It’s a small rural town, pretty prosperous. My parents set up a business there.

It was as I was growing up that the wine started coming in and it has completely transformed the place. My summer job was driving pea harvesters, when I was at university.

Those paddocks are now all vineyards and you’ve got this extraordinary uplift with the wine and food and culture – it’s a very different area now.”

Running a family business in the 70s

Running a family business in the 70s

“My parents – my dad particularly, were quite entrepreneurial. Dad was primarily interested in real estate and was one of the driving forces in setting up the Real Estate Institute in New Zealand.

He travelled all over the South Island with the real estate agency, and then they decided to do the travel agency which I think in some ways was a good excuse for him to be able to travel himself. And then had a third business, like a credit rating agency, as well.

In Blenheim they were quite well known. My siblings were quite a bit older than me, and they were around and involved in the business quite a bit as well.”

Next generation involvement is not automatic

Next generation involvement is not automatic

“I didn’t really get involved in the family business. I used to visit. There were hopes that my brother might come in. My suspicion was that those conversations didn’t go at all well to be honest, because it didn’t really happen but that was sort of the word in the family…

There were hopes on my father’s side, and that’s the challenge with family business. There were tensions between my father and my brother to some degree. I don’t know how serious the conversations were. But the opportunity disappeared.

There was a lack of skills in terms of being able to have honest conversations about how to set this up… it’s rare that these things just happen. You have to be able to talk about it.”

A change of hands

“Dad died when I was seven and he was quite an elderly man at that point. A man of his generation and a chronic smoker and that eventually caught up with him. So my mum started running these businesses. She became the matriarch of the town and was quite well known. She ran the businesses until she was in her early 70s.

Mum had a certain formidable side. She was of her generation; a very smart woman but with not a lot of formal training. There are still people in that town who both remember her and are very grateful for what she did for them.

As she was getting older, in her late 60s, she had sold the real estate business and the travel business was gone as well. So she was really focused on the credit rating agency. And she kept everything in her head.

In a small rural town people know each other’s business. Mum would often be in the situation were people would be in some financial difficulty… up to the point where they were involved with the local courts with debt. She would take them under her wing and organise their debt repayments. She was rarely wrong in her pick of people.

These people were very grateful – ‘There but for the grace of God and Mrs. P go I.’ She had that reputation. She was an unofficial social worker. She would hate that term! But she gave people a second chance.”

The importance of business governance

The importance of business governance

“Business governance is probably best understood in terms of a larger corporate space where you’ve got properly set up bodies. You’ve got a proper process for shareholders, a well-functioning board, an executive team and the appropriate connections and communication and the directions between. Each group knows what they’re responsible for, what the boundaries are and what they’re each to do. There are quite discrete roles and responsibilities.


In the private business sector, particularly in family business, all this is less well known. And I argue that family business needs to get its head around that sooner rather than later because there is a huge range of mixed roles in family businesses and I talk about what hats people are wearing.

Are they shareholders, executives, directors, mums, dads, kids?… There’s a myriad of different roles. So business governance is important. You can look at publicly listed companies and you can see what’s going on with the Board or the shareholders meetings etc. I’m not interested in putting more bureaucracy on private businesses, but it’s just being aware of what each function does and is responsible for.”

It's important to be clear which conversation you're having when

From a family business side, they tend to roll it up into one… at the dinner table you’ll have the conversation, ‘What’s happening with the current stock levels? Let’s think about what investments we want to be making… How’s Sally doing at school? Should we be investing in the neighbour’s business?’ Now that’s a range of conversations – private, family, shareholders, directors and management…

It all tends to get mushed together.

But it’s really important to be clear which conversation you’re having when.
For family businesses you don’t ever stop talking about and thinking around the business. As it gets bigger and more complex, you need those structures in place. And again, it’s not about adding bureaucracy, it’s more structuring it in your own mind… it’s about going, ‘OK, this is the conversation I need to have when I have my director’s hat on… this is the conversation when I’m the managing director, or as a shareholder. It’s more an internal discipline.

The governance structure gives that discipline. When you’re talking about director or Board decisions, be clear that that’s the meeting you’re having and have a special place for those meetings.

As businesses get bigger, they become more and more important. It’s just about demarcating those different types of conversations.

A conversation I might have with my daughter in my business about an investment or her performance is a very different conversation with different interactions and expectations to one about how her studies are going at university or if she’s upset because her boyfriend has broken her heart. Save the dinner table for family conversations.”

How a background in psychology helps understand families

How a background in psychology helps understand families

“My undergraduate degree was psychology. That was useful. I was very interested in the social psychology side of things and some of the thinking around how we behave in groups and interact with one another.

Probably the most useful work was in my masters, where I trained clinically as a psychotherapist. I did this in the U.S.

I was simultaneously working with teenagers and families in a residential place for kids who were in a fair bit of trouble.

I trained as a family therapist and an individual therapist and I learned enormously about how systems work. We spent a lot of time looking at systems thinking and systems theory.”

What is systems thinking?

What is systems thinking?

“As well as focusing on what’s going on inside the individual, which I guess is their psychology, you’re also looking at the pattern of interactions around what is being allowed and what is not being allowed. At this extraordinary place that I worked in, I learned so much in many ways.

There was no point sorting out the kid in order to send him or her back into a crazy family.

We would work with the parents in terms of what were they allowing, what sort of messages were they sending, what boundaries were they setting or not and that sort of thing. We would actually work with them almost as much as we would work with the kid.

The idea is we behave in a context, we behave in a system. The things that we allow or the things that the system might be sending to different family members has a very, very powerful effect on behaviour.”

Making connections with the whole family

Making connections with the whole family

“Often, the kids had got themselves in so much trouble, we were the last place that would actually work with them. We were very clear you’re actually signing up the whole family here.

A couple of times a year, we’d bring the family in and we’d work with them for a weekend. It was just part of the deal.

And we were able to get extraordinarily good outcomes. I have a lot of time for family therapy today, still. 

We were able to sort out some very, very tough kids and get them back on the straight and narrow.

The kids, as they moved through the system, did amazing things, extraordinary things. It was a lot of work but we were able to really deliver some amazing results for kids and their families.”

Applying family therapy theory in business

Applying family therapy theory in business

“I looked at a lot of this theory and went, ‘This can apply anywhere.’ I started working in London with a couple of people and they were actually doing this. They were doing what I theoretically thought was possible.

We did a lot of work with organisations in the UK and in the US around how do we influence or how do we change the systems within organisations so that we can change behaviour? 

How do we set up the right context for things to change and communication to be more effective and that sort of thing?

It was looking at the internal psychology but also looking at the context and the culture of an organisation and how do we send messages into that, that allow people to start behaving differently.”

Getting individuals to change within a business or governance structure that isn’t working

Getting individuals to change within a business or governance structure that isn’t working

“You hear about toxic cultures and that sort of thing and what I call an informal set of rules.

The old saying, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’.

It’s those informal roles of culture that really drive how things happen.

Good executives and leaders know that, and so they really focus on those informal rules.

If you know what you’re doing, you can actually drive profound change without appearing to be doing very much by changing some of those informal rules, which allow people to behave or encourage people to behave in different ways.”

Fixing these structures and cultures to transform a business

Fixing these structures and cultures to transform a business

“I talk about surprise and the patterns that go on. I think all the time in behavioural patterns within an organisation. Effectively, when you join an organisation, you see things very clearly. But after about a month in that organisation your view of all that closes down, because it starts just becoming, ‘This is just the way we do things around here.’

So you quickly learn who you can be completely open and honest with and who you shouldn’t be open and honest with and what are the rules of the situation.

A good executive has an awareness of those rules, and will often say, ‘What is a positive surprise that we can do if we want to change behaviour in certain ways?’

We do a very, very close analysis of the informal rules and what is going on. And we will tend to finally identify with certain executives. ‘Okay, instead of saying this, you say that. And it might be a change of phrase or it might be, ‘You stop doing this.’”

Making small changes

Making small changes

“We changed one situation with an executive. A staff member would always come into their office and they’d be ranting and raving and getting into massive fights all the time. We identified the pattern of behaviour.

Once we’d clarified that with the executive, we said, ‘Well, okay, let’s just actually change your behaviour so that they can’t keep behaving the way they’re behaving.’

And so it became, instead of doing something more, it actually became ‘stop doing this.’

We backed it up with a lot of the evidence that they’d given us, but it actually transformed the reaction because one of the things we reframed was that the person just needed to let off steam. And if the executive could just shut up and let them let off steam, it would change the entire interaction. And so they’d let off steam, realise they hadn’t gotten into a fight, calm down, and then they could have a more sensible conversation. It was that element of doing something different.

And what we talk about is the small things that make a difference. Traditional change says that you’ve got to do big things to make big changes. But we actually talk about, let’s do small things. Let’s do the little nudges that actually allow a whole lot of other things to occur.”

A domino effect

A domino effect

“So you can use this thinking to start really going through, and without having to use a great deal of time or resources, start shifting the nature of the interactions across the whole group.

It’s almost like if a group has permission to suddenly start speaking frankly. Then we suddenly get a whole lot of other new ideas, and then other possibilities come in and then people realise that it’s okay to speak frankly. And so we start getting a virtual circle. So it is that domino effect that we do one thing which then leads to other dominoes starting to fall.

And very quickly you can start shifting the cultural or the interaction patterns. Now, that doesn’t mean that can’t go back. You have to maintain these things, but if there’s a lot of subtlety to actually being able to make quite profound changes in how groups interact with one another.”

Dealing with resistance to change

“We tend not to work with the people who are resistant to change. If they’re not seeing that there’s a problem then we don’t really have a job to do. Often, we’re called in because they are the problem. And so, we have ways of managing them. I’ve developed a lot of skills in dealing with very difficult and challenging people at times. It’s really finding out what do they want to be different, and what is of concern to them. And when we can find that, and we go, ‘Well, if you could do that, what difference would that make to your life, and your professional life, whatever it is?’ And if we can get a hook, we can actually work with them.

Most people are behaving in a way that they think is the right thing to do. And so we don’t really buy into this whole thing of resistance. We have ways of changing some of those perceptions so that actually they start going, ‘Well, maybe that isn’t the right way to behave. Well, maybe it isn’t necessary to behave in that way.’

One of the classic examples of course is what people are rewarded for. There are large financial gains to be made or rewards that are reinforcing certain behaviours, so people are behaving logically because that’s what they’re getting rewarded for. We just don’t think through the unintended consequences well enough around that because it’s a very short-term view of things.

Now, we know people are relationship forming beings, so the most powerful incentives really are around the relationships that people have within organisations. If we can build on that, and if we can actually use those natural drivers around wanting to be part of a team, it is usually a very strong driver – not letting the team down. And in family businesses this is particularly strong. That’s when you actually can start shifting things and at the same time managing very carefully the formal incentives that are in that system.

You’ve got to watch that quite carefully because you can often get some perverse incentives happening which drive a business in a way that is very unhelpful.”

The right incentives to drive positive behaviour

The right incentives to drive positive behaviour

“It’s been a long time really since I’ve taught communication skills and that sort of thing and most people just tend to roll their eyes. And frankly, sending people off to do a communications program and expect them to communicate better back at work is folly, really.

You actually need to look at how that team is interacting and what patterns are going on. And if we can shift that, we’re going to make a much bigger change than teaching everybody communication skills.

As well as looking at what they’re trying to do, and what are the outputs, and what assumptions are being made, and what can be said and what can’t be said.

Again, you look at those informal rules, sometimes we need to challenge some of those informal rules or sometimes we reframe them. But it starts to explain why people are behaving as they are and it starts giving us clues on how we can start to have that change.”

Back to opening Mum’s will in 1992...

Back to opening Mum’s will in 1992...

“So this was a very salutary lesson, which I probably spent many, many years absorbing and looking at. I particularly think about it in terms of the sort of work that I do with family businesses these days.

My brother has been an entrepreneur for most of his life, and he saw a business opportunity and he approached my mother to see if she would guarantee some loans for him. Now, the other siblings and myself were going, ‘Ah, Mum, not sure you should be doing that.’ But she did. And unfortunately, the business didn’t work out.

I think my mother was quite poorly advised, and I know my brother believes this very much. She should have in fact been a lot harder when people came after the money. But regardless, she lost quite a significant amount of money, and I know my brother was very upset – it was absolutely devastating for him, too.”

The dangers of breaking the transparency rule

“After that situation, Mum decided that he’d had his share and as a family we broke the transparency rule.

When you’re talking about money, about wills in family business, when you’re talking about what’s going on, you need to have as much transparency as you possibly can. And so, my mother made various decisions in her will from that thing with my brother, and she had decided that she was going to leave the rest of her estate to the other three children, and we felt this was probably fair. She talked to the three of us about this. What she didn’t do is she didn’t talk to my brother.

None of us told him about it. And so my mother died quite suddenly, and it was very emotional. And when the will was read, my brother’s name wasn’t even in the will.

He was utterly, utterly devastated. And the result was that he and I didn’t talk to each other for about five or six years.

It damaged a lot of family relationships. Most of this has been repaired now, but this is something that frankly did not need to happen and could have been dealt with so much better if Mum had been transparent… if we’d actually had the conversations that we should have had. The cost was horrendous.

There’s a level of hurt in the family that’s still there. I know my brother still feels hurt, and it was just unnecessary. And I know I have to take a certain amount of the blame.

I probably should have been more upfront or transparent with him about what was going on with Mum, but it didn’t even occur to me at the time.”

Early conversations can avoid the painful ramifications

Early conversations can avoid the painful ramifications

“Most people think it’s very hard and very painful to have these conversations, but I can assure you it’s a hell of a lot worse when you don’t.

I was working with a family business recently, and I asked the father what was the split up of the shares between the son and daughter, and he said, ‘25% to my daughter and 75% to my son’, and all hell broke loose. And this has sort of been dealt with. But I said to the father afterwards, I said, ‘Well, thank God you’re having this conversation now.

I know this has been a difficult conversation, but thank God you’re having this now because if you died and the will was like that your daughter would never have spoken to your son again. And their children would not have spoken to their children, and they would have been massive rift straight down the middle of the family.’”

Family rifts can last generations

Family rifts can last generations

“I’m pretty optimistic – I’ve seen some pretty horrendous things said and done in families and families in business, and I’ve seen them come back from it, but there are sometimes things that occur that don’t get repaired. And that is just a disaster which rolls through the generations.

I’ve worked with one family where there’s a massive split between the father and his sister, and their children now don’t to talk to each other either. And there’s now a third generation coming in who don’t talk to each other. So this rift is being passed down the generations. It is unnecessary.

I’m not saying we can prevent all rifts, but there are things like this that, with a bit of transparency and a bit of honesty, you can often prevent them.”

Family businesses are the backbone of New Zealand and Australia's economy

Family businesses are the backbone of New Zealand and Australia's economy

“Speaking to some researchers just recently, as far as we can tell, and the research is reasonably good in Australia, that at least 50% of employment is generated by family business.

In New Zealand we suspect it’s higher. But it’s a significant chunk of the economy in both countries.”

What is it that makes family businesses do so well?

What is it that makes family businesses do so well?

“Every month, I tap into 18 different family businesses ranging from three million in size up to five, six hundred million in size. And so I get a really interesting snapshot across all industries. And you hear just how well they’re doing.

Now, that information is not publicly available like it is for a public registered company. 

So I actually get to see just how amazing these businesses are, and I think it’s powerful that they’ve got very clever business people. There’s no doubt about that. There are a number of factors.

One is they will tend to have a much longer view, because they’re not having to report quarterly to a bunch of financial analysts with a share price on the line with every quarterly report. I’ve got one family business which has a 60 to 70-year time frame around investments, and they’re making investments now, which are probably only returning 7%. They know in 30 years’ time that they are sitting on an absolute gold mine and they’re building a legacy that way.

In terms of culture, there’s a sense of taking care of people as long as people are performing. I guess what I don’t want to do in any way is give the impression that they’re like sheltered workshops. These people – they’re smart, savvy business people, but because they have that long-term view of what they’re trying to do, they have a good focus on the relationships and the culture of what’s going on, as well as the business. And so they’re not as cutthroat, I think, as I see sometimes in the corporate arena because they have to be thinking about succession.

So you’ll often get a level of mentoring of the next generation coming through, which is because they want the next generation to be successful.

And the other element is they’ll often provide opportunities for people that wouldn’t normally be available. I’ve seen a number of young women executives get opportunities.

They’re often thrown in the deep end and often it’s incredibly hard work, but they give it a go.”

Loyalty and reward

“There are opportunities created in these industries, and because they’ve got family members in there they tend to treat other people like family members. That’s a double-edged sword because sometimes there is an accusation, and there’s some validity to it, that some family businesses treat people too softly, they let people get away with things.

There is a bit of that, but I’ve also seen an enormous level of loyalty generated. And so people who are not family who might have worked with the business for 20 or 30 years have done amazing things too. I know one family business where there was someone who had been incredibly loyal, a non-family member who was involved for I think 25 years, but it was now time for them to retire.

That business was becoming more sophisticated and it was beyond that member’s level of knowledge and skill. The family dealt with that person beautifully – they got a good retirement package, and the retirement gift was in fact a caravan for them to go travelling around the country.

There’s another family business that every seven years or so, gives to their employees a total amount of around two to three million dollars. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the managing director or the person who’s driving the forklift, they get an absolute equal split of that money.”

The magic of family business

The magic of family business

“And that just has massive, massive implications for how people feel about the business. You go into that business and people feel like they’re part of it. They feel like they’re part of something and this is I think one of the magic things that family businesses do. They manage these relationships.”

Deb adds: “They sound absolutely magic and I know certainly they are. You know I have my own family business and we have a lot of beautiful things going on in the culture, which is lovely. It’s really lovely.”

The challenges of handing over to the next generation

The challenges of handing over to the next generation

“My standing joke is talking about founder syndrome. And a lot of people who, whether they’ve started the business or whether they’ve inherited it from their parents and have been in it all their life, they’re often incredibly entrepreneurial and smart, driven. They have put their life and soul into this business and they’re often very strong willed.

They don’t suffer fools well, and at the same time they’re often control freaks with a slight, if not so subtle sense of, ‘No one can do it as well as me.’

Now, there’s a level of reality behind that to some degree, right? And so, there are numerous things that come along here. Ironically, they’re often the ones that do put their children into opportunities that are actually amazing. But the challenge for these men and women, is that if they’re in their late 60s, 70s, something like that, there are a couple of things to consider.”

Learning when, and how, to let go

“One is being able to let go enough so that the next generation can actually really take a leadership role – and trusting and allowing the next generation to be able to take the lead because the next generation will almost by definition do things differently to them. It’s being able to give the next generation that space.

The other challenge is that they’ve often put so much of their time and effort and life into work they have nothing else. And so it’s like, ‘Well, if I didn’t come to work what on earth do I do?’

There’s only so much golf you can play. And the work is often the thing that’s keeping them alive and keeping them healthy. I’ve got one guy in his 70s who’s one of the best developers of new products and he’s brilliant. He would miss doing that because it gives so much meaning to his life. The challenge is if they step back, they often panic. And we also know that the survival rates once you retire are incredibly low if you don’t have some sort of significant out of work interest.

I’ve got a few clients, who if they retire, have to spend an awful lot of time at home with their husband or wife, and they know they’ll drive each other completely batty! So you’ve got a little bit of that coming in. And so it’s a juggle and it’s a struggle. And so a lot of family businesses find ways around it by having a conversation.”

Staying involved at the right level

Staying involved at the right level

“It is the key to be able to say, ‘Well what is the thing that you, Mum or Dad, can do and want to do that equally allows you to do the other things?’ – travel or whatever it is that they want to do. And I’ve seen some lovely examples. My favourite story is a fourth generation business – talking to the father who was in his 60s and was getting his son to become involved in the business.

And there was this lovely old gentleman sitting at a desk just across from where we were sitting, and this was the grandfather. And the grandfather was sitting there and he was working on the computer.

The father went out at one point and I was talking to the grandfather and he looked at me said, ‘You know, I’m going to be 100 in six weeks.’ He was just wonderful. He would come in two days a week. He was really the auditor for the business.

I can name three other businesses that do this where they’ve got a desk and an office and a role for these people, and it keeps them alive, it keeps them involved and they’re tapped into that extraordinary wisdom as well there.”

No word for 'retirement'

Deb notes: “There’s a community in Italy that has the most people aged over 100 in the whole world, and they don’t have a word for ‘retirement’. They have a purpose and keep moving forward.”

“That’s right, and it keeps that whole family connection going and yes, it’s good stuff.”

Putting structures in place to help with these challenges

“As family businesses get bigger they’ve got to set up two types of governance.

So, the business governance is the shareholders, the board, the executive… and the board might be an advisory board, which is a very effective way to go for a lot of businesses. Rather than have formal directors, they just get a group of advisers who meet regularly like a board, and that works brilliantly for a lot of them.

And then you have the family governance. If the family is going to make a real go of building a legacy with this business then you’ve got to be able to align the family with the business, and the family governance is very important here.

This is effectively having the right documentation – we call this a family constitution or a family charter. You need a family council and another body that we often call a family forum.

So you’ll have the family governance running and then parallel to it you have the business governance. The family governance is to align the family so that they know what’s going on with the business, but not all the family necessarily in the business. Decisions that need to be made, say by the directors, are not necessarily what the family should be making decisions around. It’s important to know what the roles are.”

 The right people making the right decisions

The right people making the right decisions

“It’s clarifying the communications and managing expectations. One of the family businesses I’m lucky to work with has set this up very well.

They have a family council, they have a family forum, they have the shareholders, they have a board, and some of the family work in the business.

Now again you need this transparency and honesty going on in a family because if you don’t have that then you have conspiracy theories.

There can be suspicion from family members who don’t work in the business around, ‘Well, what’s going on? What’s happening?’

If you have these formal communication processes set up you eliminate a lot of the worry and the concern. And especially when these business start getting quite big their finances become very complex and you’re starting to talk large amounts of money.

I know one case where a family member who didn’t work in the business was getting concerned about the levels of debt because she was hearing some very large numbers being talked about. And so we actually got an expert in to come in and talk to the family around debt equity ratios. So this was in the family council and we got this expert to come in and say, ‘This is what debt equity ratio is. This is a high level of debt equity. This is a medium level. This is a low level, and this is where you are.’

And even though the numbers are big, actually from an industry standard and debt equity ratio level, they were actually very safe. Equally, the board will often come to a family council and say, ‘We want to invest in a certain area and we want to know if the family is okay with us making these sorts of investments.’ Now there’s a distinction there.”

Know the roles and stick to them

“We don’t want the family to dictate which investments to invest in or not. That’s the board’s decision. So, maybe the board wants to invest in companies that, I don’t know, are involved with making alcoholic drinks, or involved with companies that do research that might involve animals. Is the family comfortable with making investments in that direction?

The board has a fiduciary responsibility to make responsible investments and decisions, and they are held by the various governance to that. They have insurance to cover it if there’s a mistake of some sort. Family members don’t have that. And so family members need to know what the board’s responsibility is and what their responsibility is, and the two cannot be mixed because you can get into all sorts of trouble.

It’s knowing again what your role is and what the responsibilities are. Family governance is a way of keeping families updated, keeping things clear, involving the in-laws… for some European family businesses, there might be three or four hundred family members. And of course they can’t all be working in the business, but they’re interested in the business. So, this is a way of providing information and support and backup to the family from the business.”

Putting systems in place to increase transparency

“Putting systems in place to allow people to be transparent has a huge effect because that level of both honest conversations and transparency is important. Every family business has their struggles. But if the family is actually by and large fairly happy with what things are going on then they can really focus on doing business.

I’ve got one family business that has literally doubled in size in the last year, and I doubt they would have been able to do that five or six years ago because they were fighting so many fires. But now the systems, the processes are working for them and this business is just going gangbusters. The family have a level of trust that they know that things are going well, that they’re not begin kept in the dark and that in fact everybody’s going to benefit from this.

They’re saying ‘Let’s go for it.’ And it doesn’t mean that there aren’t odd disagreements and so on, but they’re manageable and they’re dealt with quickly when they do arise. And so it just minimises distractions and allows the family to just get on and run these extraordinary businesses and everybody shares in the outputs from that.”

The emotional aspect of owning a family business

“One of the big differences between a family business and a normal business is that, and it’s appropriate in every country I think, is that there is a level of emotion that is attached to the business. For New Zealand many, many family businesses are farms and the same in Australia to some degree. And the level of emotional attachment to a farm is extraordinary.

The farm is not just a business. It is something that has this huge connection in the hearts of family members.

And so when you look at a business, whether it’s a farm or otherwise, it’s not just a money making thing. Ownership of a business is not just a matter of, ‘How many shares do I get?’ A farm has just got this connection of childhood memories and so on that link with the land.

So an accountant will look at that from the perspective of ‘Well, okay. What does it produce and how much money does it make and what’s its level of profits?’ And that’s important. But equally the emotional side of things is as important. When you’re looking at succession and transition for businesses you have to be able to manage the emotions that are involved because these rumble through the generations. And being able to have the conversations in the family is critical.

You don’t get that in a normal private business that can look at it far more clinically, pretty much just from the straight financial aspect and make their decisions. Emotional connection and attachment are key elements of running a successful family business.”

Deb concludes, “Beautiful. Thank you Phil. It’s been an absolute pleasure digging into the details and your work with family businesses – thank you very much for chatting with me.”

You’ve been listening to the Brilliant Podcast with Deb Croucher.

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