The term “Family business ” usually refers to a small or mid-sized company that has a local focus and is plagued with a familiar set of dilemmas such as succession. In spite of that very simple description, family businesses have played a powerful role in the world economy and have included, through the years, big businesses worldwide. Some examples in Australia of successful family businesses are linFox, smorgon group, cooper’s brewery and there are plenty of others.
Most of the time, the key to success of a family business lies in its unique ownership structure that allows them to plan and thrive in the long-term. But other researchers believe that it is also this structure that causes many of them to fall. So what’s really the case?
In a recent article from Harvard Business Review, What You Can Learn from Family Business by Kachaner, Stalk and Bloch, presented a rigorous analysis of how family businesses and non-family controlled businesses differ in management and performance.
And from this article, we’ve derived seven points on how family-run businesses manage for resiliency and how business managers can benefit from these principles.
1. Family business is frugal in good and bad times.
In most cases, family businesses view their money as “the family’s money” which is why they often do a better job of keeping expenses under control. This can be a weakness as often, to save a buck, they invest with shorter timeframes in mind rather than thinking of the long term.
2. a family business keeps their bar high for cAPEX.
Family-run firms have a simple rule when it comes to capital expenditures – they make sure they do not spend more than they earn. They often run “leaner” than their corporate cousins.
3. a family business has little debt.
Family businesses, because of their close-knit and simple structure usually associate debt with fragility and risk, and tend to avoid it. They usually have very strong balance sheets.
4. Family business make few and small acquisitions.
Although an acquisition can transform a company and pay large rewards, it can carry a high risk. And this is why family businesses shy away from large acquisitions and prefer to make few of these deals and only favor companies that are close to the core of their existing businesses.
5. a family business is diversified.
In this day and age, diversification is important to keep a business alive and it is no different with a family-run business. Diversification has become one of the key ways to protect family wealth. In fact, the Smorgon Group in Australia is an example of a diversified family business that went from meat to steel, and paper.
6. a family business is more international.
Contrary to what most people know, family businesses are ambitious about expanding overseas. In fact, they often generate more sales out of the country (USA) than other businesses do.
7. a family business is better at keeping talent.
Businesses that are family-owned prefer to extol the benefits of longer employee tenures thus creating a stronger culture.
With these seven points, we can conclude that despite its small and simple structure, family businesses have shown to be resilient in times of economic uncertainty. I think this is largely driven by a strong sense of ownership of the brand and finances. Yes, they are not without pitfalls, the largest being inter-generational transfer but they survive through the years by focusing more on resilience than performance.