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Nov 13 2014
family business springboard

Family Business Springboard

By STEPHANIE OLEXA, Strategic Business Advisor, PhD,  MBA

The Grand Finale for the Forum series this year could not have been held at a more intriguing venue or on a more beautiful evening. The Adventure Aquarium ballroom view of the shark tank and the sunset over the Philadelphia skyline both stunned. But the drama of the setting did not overwhelm the content of the meeting. I smiled as I wandered through the group before the meeting. The considerate camaraderie of colleagues celebrating their uniqueness as family business owners always impresses me.

Chris Herschend, third generation member of Herschend Family Enterprises (HFE), is a skilled speaker and teacher. With his self-effacing comments about his (lack of) hair peppered into the story of a unique family business, he captivated the group. While the family owns HFE 100%, they don’t run it. I was surprised to hear that only two family members serve on the HFE Board, of nine total. Family members are not prohibited from working in the business, but they are not required or even encouraged to do so. Chris said that although 0% family run is unusual, trends are shifting in this direction.

Chris shared thought-provoking ideas throughout the evening, such as:

  • “Find out what makes you fully alive and we are behind you!”
  • “It wasn’t always this way and it won’t stay this way”
  • “Family business is not an engineering challenge but a gardening challenge.”

But my personal favorite was “Family business is a springboard, not a life source”. I think it applies to every family business. Chris challenged us to use our family businesses as springboards to success for everyone the business touches, employees as well as family members. This includes the community the business serves.

The Ripple Effect

Family businesses launch careers, develop leaders, forge bonds, and create legacies. They create a safe environment for risk-taking that encourages personal and business innovation – to dive right in. Family businesses support the individuals who aim to achieve great things – to spring into the future. They support individuality – to do whatever dive you want. Family businesses support healthy competition – to hold business “Olympic Games.” But, most important, they create an environment for both family and non-family members that encourages improvement.

As we end the 2014 year of learning and look towards 2015, let’s consider how we will use our family business springboard to launch our businesses, employees, family members, and ourselves into the future.

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