How to Lead Your Family Business: A book review by Bob Morris

How to Lead Your Family Business:  Excelling Through Unexpected Crises, Choices, and Challenges
Julie Charlestein
Matt Holt/An Imprint of Bella Books (February 2023)

Timely and timeless advice that is practical, principled, and results-driven

For about 20 years, I worked closely with several hundred owner/CEOs of smaller companies whose annual sales ranged from 10 to 25 million dollars.  Many (if not most) of their most time-consuming problems were related to employee relations and allocation of resources. I learned that running a business “like a family” is an excellent strategy if (HUGE “if”) the model is a family whose members are all happy, healthy, hard-working, results-driven workers who think and behave in terms of first-person PLURAL pronouns and really don’t care who gets credit so long as the company succeeds.

Alas, perfection is a worthy aspiration but seldom a reality.

Whatever their size and nature may be, all organizations need effective leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. It is no coincidence that companies annually ranked among those that are most highly admired and best to work for are also ranked among those that are most prosperous and have the greatest cap value in their business sector. It is also important to keep in mind that small companies have several competitive advantages. Years ago at a GE annual meeting when then-chairman and CEO, Jack Welch, was asked the reasons why he admired small companies so much. Here’s his reply:

“For one, they communicate better. Without the din and prattle of bureaucracy, people listen as well as talk; and since there are fewer of them they generally know and understand each other. Second, small companies move faster. They know the penalties for hesitation in the marketplace. Third, in small companies, with fewer layers and less camouflage, the leaders show up very clearly on the screen. Their performance and its impact are clear to everyone. And, finally, smaller companies waste less. They spend less time in endless reviews and approvals and politics and paper drills. They have fewer people; therefore they focus on doing what is most important. Their people are free to direct their energy and attention toward the marketplace rather than fighting bureaucracy.”

Many (if not most) of the most valuable business principles are relevant to many (if not most) organizations. Also, “family-owned” does not necessarily mean “family members-involved.” The information, insights, and counsel that Julie Charlestein provides in the book comprise her response to this question: “What are the most important dos and don’ts to keep in mind when leading – or being closely associated with — a family company.

I presume to add two suggestions: Highlight key passages, and, keep a lined notebook near at hand in order to record your comments, questions, and page references as well as responses to the suggestions and recommendations that are inserted throughout the book’s lively and eloquent narrative. These two simple tactics will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of the most important material later.



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