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Articles - Succession Planning in Family - Business

Growing the family firm's second generation

Friday, May 14, 2004




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Cathy and her older brother Charles have worked in her family's restaurant business for 25 years. Cathy's parents, the founders are nearing retirement and want the business to carry on under the care of their children. Cathy and Charles are ready and well trained for succession. So, where's the problem?

The problem is the youngest son, Brian. Brian has never worked in the family firm, preferring to try other ventures. Unfortunately everything Brian has tried has failed. Cathy's parents have "bailed" Brian out of one jam after another. Now as they face retirement, the parents want Cathy and Charles to share ownership and management of the business with Brian.

Cathy and Charles are beside themselves with frustration. They don't want to offend their parents. However, Brian's inexperience and lack of maturity may cause considerable problems in the business. Neither Cathy nor Charles relish the idea of taking care of their brother indefinitely as their parents have done.

This type of problem is all too common in family-owned firms. Most of us cherish the responsibility of parenting and are reluctant to give it up when the children leave home. In family firms where children may never leave home, the parenting role may continue indefinitely.

A parent's job is to nurture and protect children so that they can grow up healthy and capable of independent adult life. But parents don't teach independence directly. Independence is a state of mind that children must conquer for themselves.

Sometimes Mom and Dad fight because one doesn't want the child hurt and the other wants the child to face their mistakes. Alternatively the child may be making a bid for independence but the parents thwart it. The parents complain that their grown child is not very strong or capable of leadership. Then they complain when the child speaks up for himself.

There are a variety of strategies for ensuring that the second generation in family firms really grow up. The strategy that fits for you depends upon the business, the parent's skills and personality and the skills and personalities of the children.

The child needs an environment where they must prove themselves capable of leadership in the family business. For some this means leaving the business for awhile and working elsewhere. For others, it means getting an education before returning to the family business. Another child may benefit by working their way up from the "mailroom" with no preferential treatment from the parents. Finally, some children will be better family members and more capable adults if they never return to the family business.

There are two goals in family firms. One is to develop a thriving business. The second is to develop healthy independent adults who can contribute to society.

Keep in mind that the business can be successful without the child and the child can be successful without the business. That is, set your sights on accomplishing both goals independent of each other, and you may be surprised how they come together in the long run.

Preparing spouse to manage business can ease succession later

Thursday, March 25, 2004




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Jay was 28 when he founded his sign business. He and his wife Teddie were thrilled when they opened their storefront. As a young couple, they had a lot of energy and worked long hours getting the office and shop ready, buying supplies, developing a business plan, joining the local chamber and greeting their first customers.

Jay took over full management of the operation while Teddie kept her full time job as an account executive for a women's fashion company. But Teddie was there through all of the growing pains of the business too. She helped with billing and emptied the trash. She took messages for Jay at home in the evening when he was working late. The goal was to build the business to a level where she would quit her job and come to work with Jay. In the meantime her job provided a steady paycheck and other benefits such as insurance.

As the business grew, so did Jay and Teddie's family and responsibilities. By the time their second daughter was born, the sign business was doing well enough to support the young family without Teddie's income. It would be tight, but the couple decided to take the plunge. Teddie quit her job to have the flexibility to care for her children and help out at the business.

For years Jay and Teddie ran the business this way. Although they shared equally in the ownership of the business and both worked long hours, Jay was really the manager and Teddie the home manager. Teddie would leave early to pick the kids up from school and get them to soccer practice. On some mornings she would come in late to the office because there was a dental appointment or a school field trip. At the office, however, she was fully in charge of her department . . . everything that Jay didn't do, such as the bookkeeping, billing, purchasing and replanting the flowerbeds by the front door. Jay did the management, hiring and firing, marketing, customer service and the technical work. Amid all of this the children got more involved with the business, at first just watching dad build a sign, and later learning complex computer work.

If you are typical of most family business owners, you could probably plug your names into this scenario and change only a few details to make it your own story. Likewise, if you are typical of most small business owners, you do not have a succession plan. You have been so busy establishing and growing your business that you haven't looked that far ahead. You may not even have the confidence yet that your business will be around that long. Or you may decide to sell the business and build several other empires before you retire or die. When you were getting your business underway, it never occurred to you that you were building a legacy; you were just going after your dream.

If you are among the rare few who have considered succession planning, more than likely you and your spouse have discussed which child is best suited to be president or if management responsibilities should be shared by siblings. If you are in partnership with your brother, mother, sister-in-law, or some other family member, you probably have a legal and financial plan for how the partnership will transition should one or the other of you die or wish to be bought out. However, if the family business is a sole proprietorship such as Jay and Teddie have, and the husband is the founder and president, it's highly unlikely that you have considered your wife as a successor to the business leadership. Yet it is the wife who is most likely to be thrown into that position with the death of the founder where no succession plan has been established.

In 1984 McKinley conducted an interesting study in which she found that a widow was more than willing to take over management of the business upon her husband's death, especially if she had been working with her husband. But even among those widows not working in the business side-by-side with their husbands, there was a strong desire to take over the management. These widows reported that the business was very meaningful to them that it was a part of their identity, that they had psychologically helped build the business. They did not want the business to pass out of their hands, even if they didn't know how to run it.

Furthermore, most of the widows studied did not know how to manage their husband's business, because they had not been trained. Their function had been auxiliary. They provided support such as Teddie has done for Jay. Therefore, these widows, untrained in the ins and outs of managing the family business, had to turn to their attorneys, CPAs and other advisors to educate themselves about the business. This is not sufficient training for the complexity of running a small business, as any business owner knows. But these particular women were determined and they learned as their husbands had done . . .by the seat of their pants.

This seat-of-the-pants training may have been sufficient for the founder, but it seems a waste to have the successor not benefit by her predecessor's lessons. Unless the business is a professional practice requiring college and certification that your wife could not readily get upon your death, preparing your wife to take over the business is a logical and practical step for most business owners. A side benefit is that once she is trained, the founder can turn his interests elsewhere, such as expansion or developing a second business entity. Growth of an empire is possible only when you have the flexibility and freedom to explore uncharted territory. If you are busy manning the helm, your growth will be limited to raising prices on product or adding a new line.

Preparing a wife for the presidency is no easy feat, however. It means acknowledging that the founder may die or wish to move onto something else. It means putting things into writing, such as compensation plans for your wife. It means letting go of control and allowing your wife to know all of the company secrets. It means that the marriage itself will be challenged. As the protégé grows in ability and leadership, the mentor may find himself eased out of power before he is ready. Can your marriage stand the strain of your wife being the boss, for example?

Making your wife your equal partner at work (provided she wants the job) and teaching her everything you know, will provide a solid succession plan. She will most likely be a devoted fan of yours and the business, and therefore a loyal and responsible guardian for the business. She will be a much better prepared widow than McKinley found in her study and less likely to lose the business. However, this also means redesigning the business today to accommodate two owners, two managers, two leaders. The consensus model of marriage that most Americans accept as the standard today will be brought into the business setting. Not only will husband and wife have to adjust to this change, but so will employees, customers and others used to a more hierarchical model.

Be prepared to change the structure of management when your wife becomes your management partner. No longer can the founder fly by the seat of his pants. Although you may feel that your style is cramped when there are two of you to answer to, remember that having a well trained successor (and one who loves you) means that the business has a much more bright and stable future.

Preparing for small business success can also mean preparing for wealth

Thursday, February 12, 2004




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

To many, managing your money evokes the image of penny pinching and squirreling enough out of a meager small business budget to save for retirement of send the kids to college. Preparing yourself for sudden wealth probably isn't the first thing on your mind.

But, in so many cases, the average millionaire started out an ordinary working person and acquired wealth through building their small business. To avoid, or at least be prepared for, some of the problems that come with sudden wealth, it is necessary to plan. Hear are just a few real life examples:

Nancy had been a social worker for most of her adult life. Her standard of living was modest but she made a good salary for a single woman. She even qualified to buy a house. At age 32, she met Mark, a software designer who made a million overnight.

Frank was a poor kid who grew up in an inner city neighborhood. After a stint in the Navy, Frank decided to try his hand at mining, then real estate, then almost any other business opportunity that turned a profit. By age 40 he was a multi-millionaire.

Really, the only thing these people have in common is that they have wealth. Most people would not consider that a problem, nor even worthy of a column in this newspaper. However, another thing these people have in common is that they have to learn to manage their wealth. Like any other lesson in life, if you have no previous experience, there may be bumps in the road.

Frank never really thought he experienced any setbacks as a result of his wealth. As he puts it, he "loves making money!" On the other hand, he is estranged from his grown children and is divorcing his third wife.

Again, if you do not think any of this applies to you, think again. The average millionaire started out an ordinary working person and acquired wealth through building their small business. To avoid or at least be prepared for some of the problems that plague Frank and Nancy, it is necessary to plan ahead for the day when you may have wealth. If you are in business, that is probably one of your goals anyway, so why not think positively?

The New York Times published some data on the "average American millionaire." Surprisingly, most millionaires do not lead glamorous lives. They own bowling alleys, funeral homes and small manufacturing plants.

In fact, the average millionaire is a 57-year-old man, married with three children. He is self-employed in a practical business such as farming, pest control or paving contracting. He works between 45-55 hours a week. He has a median household income of $131,000 and lives in a house valued at $320,000. He drives an older model car. Although he attended public school he is likely to send his children to private school. Finally, he is first generation affluent.

It sounds to me like the American Dream is alive and well. However, many of these millionaires are not doing that well in the areas of personal relationships, health and emotional well-being. Some, like Frank, neglected their marital partners and their children because they were so focused on the thrill of making money. At mid-life now, Frank is trying desperately to re-establish these relationships, but his children feel that his addiction to money is greater than his love for them. Frank waited too long to strike the balance between love and work.

Nancy's problem is more common than you think. Ordinarily, this type of mindset prevents the acquisition of wealth altogether. But Nancy was faced with the painful situation of having to re-evaluate her social values. This pain nearly put her in the hospital with a severe depression. She felt "dirty" having money, yet she felt guilty for wanting to keep it. Nancy had to do a lot of soul searching to realize that she was just as important as those disenfranchised folk she had helped as a social worker. When she began to view the money as a gift, as love, as energy from the universe, she started using it not only to help others, but to benefit herself and those she loved.

What Frank and Nancy have in common is the awareness that wealth brings with it responsibility. Planning for this new responsibility will put you ahead of the game when the time arrives.

Stewardship is another name for this responsibility. Once all of the bills are paid, once the new house is purchased, once you have exhausted all of your fantasies for travel, jewelry, cars and horses, the "average millionaire" still has to ask himself or herself, "What am I contributing to my community?" This is the bump in the road that takes the most maneuvering.

As long as you barely make enough money to pay the rent, or you work night and day to get your start-up business off the ground, or your days are filled with managing small children, there is precious little time to ask yourself "what will I be remembered for?" But the acquisition of wealth puts people in this spot, sometimes overnight.

Charlene took care of her basic needs after she and her husband struck it rich with their manufacturing business. She built a new house, decorated it, bought a condo at the beach, traveled to Europe, and sent her children to private schools. Then one day she woke up deeply depressed because her life had no meaning. She tried therapy. She volunteered for worthy causes. She joined social clubs. She took up sculpting. Nothing worked, however, until she read about foundations. This idea took hold of Charlene and she began the process of funding a foundation that would sponsor young women interested in entrepreneurship.

If you want to be prepared for wealth start thinking now about what you really want to do with that money. Ask yourself, what is really important to me in my life? If I could change the world to make it a better place what would I do? If you can answer questions such as these, you will have principles to guide you as you acquire wealth.

Fair compensation in the family business

Friday, October 10, 2003




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D.


For years Arnie looked forward to having his son and daughter join him in his publishing business.

Arnie and his wife, Ilsa, had rebuilt the business after Arnie's father lost everything due to some poor planning and miscalculating the marketplace. Even though the business went under when Arnie was in college, he could see the potential. He had a degree in marketing and knew the publishing business from the inside out. With Ilsa's accounting background, they systematically restored the business to a healthy functioning.

About the time that Arnie's and Ilsa's two children were off to college the business was in expansion mode and Arnie was counting on his son and daughter to help take the company into the twenty-first century.

The children were eager to help out too. They were getting relevant degrees in college, had acquired internships at publishing houses back East, and upon graduation were ready to come home and learn the family business under Mom's and Dad's tutelage.

Arnie and Ilsa had laid the groundwork well for inviting their children into the family business. The kids had seen how hard their parents worked, but they weren't ignored. The family always came first. Also Arnie and Ilsa involved the children in the business from the start. Even as toddlers, they played in the office. As older children, they helped out with odd projects and straightening up. They were familiar with all of the employees, who felt like one big extended family to them.

In high school, the children tried their hands out with some of the professional work. Frequently the family business was a subject for a high school project. It was common knowledge and often discussed that both son and daughter were welcome to work in the family business after they completed college.

All seemed to be going as planned until the day came to discuss the employment agreement with each child. Never before had the family had to consider real business when dealing with each other. As teenagers, the kids had been paid minimum wage or a bit better. There were no benefits or perks because their parents took care of those things. Now the children were adults, responsible for their own lives, which meant that negotiating compensation had to be strictly business. The children couldn't be expected to work for minimum wage anymore and they expected to be compensated for contributions they made to the company.

Arnie and Ilsa had some work cut out for them. The question was, How to compensate their children, as if they were regular employees, but with the added benefit of having trusted family members to help run the business?

Compensating relatives is a sticky business. Not all people are really created equal. It is sometimes very difficult to assess and compare the talents of family members who are also employees. Nor do all family members contribute equally to the business. As a result of the stress that this causes, many family business owners ignore the problem and let compensation become a breeding ground for dissension in the family.

For example, many wives in family businesses do not earn a salary at all. The reason given by the CEO for this is that it saves on taxes. The justification is that she is an owner of the business, so she is growing an investment. However, the research also shows that family business wives are invisible when it comes to decision making and that they feel isolated and unappreciated. Lack of a salary or a nominal salary may account for this.

A recent survey by Mass Mutual Insurance Company reports a wide discrepancy between the salaries of sons and the salaries of daughters in family businesses across America. On average the typical son in a family business earns $115,000, while his sister earns only $19,000. These salaries also reflect the tendency of family firms to view the contributions of women as of less value and the strength of primogeniture in succession planning. In other words sons are groomed for leadership while daughters are groomed for supportive roles and paid less than their brothers.

In other situations, CEOs of family firms attempt to avoid the problem of compensation for family member/employees by paying everyone the same, even themselves. Or they hire a family member simply because they are family, regardless of their abilities.

The problem with this method is that the talented and creative employees are not rewarded for their work and may become resentful of the family members they must "carry." And the employees who are overpaid are not getting accurate feedback for their work performance, which makes it hard to improve. Likewise the CEO is not really viewed as sacrificing when he or she takes a low salary. Rather he or she is viewed as a weak leader.

Although it is not easy to put aside the anxiety caused by developing a fair compensation plan for your family members/employees, it is absolutely necessary if business is to thrive. Family relationships built upon honesty are far superior to the games required by compensation plans designed to avoid friction. So if you follow the advice of experts you will design your compensation plan according to these five steps:

1. Write up accurate job descriptions for each employee. Include responsibilities, level of authority, technical skills, level of experience and education required for each job.

2. Identify what your compensation philosophy is. Do you want to pay about average, or higher? Do you want to attract talent from other companies? Do you want to offset the typical male/female wage differential? Are you a training ground for young, inexperienced people?

3. Gather information on the salaries of similar positions in your industry. Size up companies that are similar to yours in number of employees, revenue, product, geographic location, etc. What salaries and other benefits do these similar organizations pay their employees?

4. Develop a succession plan. How will a successor to the leadership be identified among family member/employees? How will they be prepared for leadership? How will this choice affect the morale of the family/business? How will this successor be compensated?

5. Design an affordable plan. Obviously you want to do the best you can with the dollars you have. What can you afford to compensate each family member/employee relative to their contribution?

After you have a compensation plan that reflects the family's values as well as sound business practices, you are in position to negotiate an employment contract with a family member. It is important that everything is spelled out up front so that when you have an annual review, there is a way to compare employee performance with outlined expectations in the job description. Salary increases can then be based upon the employee's true accomplishments.

It will be hard for Ilsa and Arnie to totally separate their love for their children from this matter-of-fact compensation plan. There is room in any business for discretion in awarding raises and other forms of compensation. However, when the money decisions are made strictly from emotion or avoidance of emotion, there is bound to be trouble. As the CEO of a family business, make the best decision you can for the business. As a parent or a spouse, encourage your family member/employee to achieve their greatest potential within or outside the business. In this way both business and family wins.

Should your children leave the nest - and business - behind?

Friday, April 12, 2002




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Every parent faces the day when their children are no longer children. They must make their way in the world as adults. Some are off to college, others to travel, others the military, and many straight off to work. Whatever their direction, they are no longer kids. We may think they still need guidance, but they will move into adulthood without looking back. If we haven't prepared them for this move by now, the parents in their lives have little to say anymore about the life paths they will choose.

In a family-owned business, preparing children for entering into adult life is different in some ways than for other families. In addition to teaching life skills, parents assist their children to integrate independence and confidence. They are preparing their children to fly freely and strongly when they leave the nest.

But in a family business the assumption may be that the child will stay in the nest; that they are being groomed to take over the family business when the parents retire. There is an inherent conflict in grooming your child for independence and yet holding that independence in suspension until the parents retire from the business.

Family business owners, who wish to groom their children to succeed them in managing the business, need to work with this inherent conflict. Too often the mistake is made that the child is never fully prepared for leadership and thus they remain a child indefinitely (much like Prince Charles). Another mistake is to assume that the child will take over the business when they are not interested nor inclined to so.

Preparing children for taking over the family business requires that parents selflessly attend to preparing their children for healthy independent adulthood first. A child who has grown into a self-sufficient, wise and autonomous individual is in a much better position to assume the role of leader. A child who remains subordinate to the parent into his or her 40s can hardly be practiced at autonomy or leadership.

Therefore, parents with family businesses who plan ahead for succession require a more thoughtful approach to emancipating their children. Having young children work in the family enterprise teaches them skills they could not learn otherwise. They not only become familiar with the product and style of the business, but they acquire confidence. They are participating in taking care of the family - an important value to instill.

As children get older they can be given more responsibility, even management duties. However, their progress up the ladder should not be based upon the fact that they are the son or daughter of the owner. They need to be evaluated, as would any other employee. This teaches the child to do the hard work of improving themselves.

There comes a point in adolescence when a decision needs to be made about whether a particular child is leadership material. If so, a new path must be developed for this child. It is impossible for the child to become a leader and continue to work under their parents. They need a period of proving themselves in the world, apart from their parent's protection. If they have never worked for anyone other than their parents, how can they or you be sure that they really can handle decision-making alone?

Parents are often very reluctant to let their children leave the nest. In a family-owned firm this reluctance is extremely strong. The business has evolved as a reflection of the family identity. It almost seems as if the family or business is breaking up if a family member leaves. But for the health of the child, the family and the business, children must leave and discover their own talents.

Family firms who have handled this transition gracefully, have encouraged their children to leave home and work elsewhere for a period of years. If after this time the child is ready to return to the family enterprise, and there is a suitable position for the child, then the match can be made.

The risk, of course, is that once out of the nest the child will never return, that they will find another life that suits them better than working in the family business. But then isn't that what parenting is about? The business will be much more successful being managed by strong capable leaders who want to be there and by a leader who has proven his or her talent in more than one arena.

It is important for families in business to be open about their planning for business succession. Children should be advised early about who is being considered for leadership. But there should also be flexibility about this decision. Over time another child may prove to be the better successor. Or perhaps the chosen one chooses another direction.

If parents keep in mind that their job is to raise healthy autonomous children, then they are a success no matter which direction their child chooses. Whether the child chooses to return to the family business or not, they can always be a contributing member of the family.

Will your family business survive the death of its founder?

Thursday, January 03, 2002




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


The death of the founder of a business can take many family businesses by surprise. A strong willed entrepreneur takes advantage of an opportunity, builds the business to success, then dies leaving the family totally unprepared to continue the business. The business gets sold and the family legacy dies with the founder.

Family business owners are notoriously poor at planning for the future of their businesses. They literally act as if the founder will never die. They don't think about the possibility even when that person is in his 70's or 80's. As a result, most family firms don't live beyond the first generation.

Death is not an easy subject to talk about; nor is retirement, especially for rugged individualist and entrepreneurs or their families. But it a subject that needs to be addressed by all members of a family firm. Is the business merely a reflection of the founder? Is it his personal property? What part do other family member play, shareholders and stakeholders alike? Who will run the business after the founder steps down? When will the founder step down?

Answering these questions and others leads to the development of what is known as a "succession plan." Even though it is tough to plan ahead to the day when you are no longer running the business you founded, it can be exciting and rewarding to know that your creation will live on and prosper under the guidance of a trusted family member. Equally rewarding is knowing that you have provided for your family.

While it is too late to work on a succession plan after the death of a founder, it is never too early to plan, even if you have no successor or just started your business or your kids are too young to even work yet. Succession plans can evolve over time to fit the changing needs of the family or the business or both.

At first, you plan may be nothing more that the understanding with your spouse that you both want the business continued after you retire. The initial plan my include provisions for how to groom the successor when one is chosen, for example. The key ingredient in all plans is that the stakeholders are communicating with each other about the need and that you are looking towards a healthy future.

When considering a succession plan it is best to enlist the aid of professionals who are knowledgeable about the unique needs of a family firm. Attorneys and CPAs can assist you in addressing the issues of estate planning. Management consultants can advise you about the most desirable business structure. Perhaps it is time to look at professional management, for example. Or perhaps your niece is better suited for he presidency than you son.

The toughest questions that need answering about succession, however, cannot be answered in an attorney's office. The founder and his or her family need to break down the old barriers to talking about death and retirement. All of the old "skeletons" in the family closet need to be cleaned out. Emotions, biases, age-old grudges need to be vented, explored and settled.

Until the family can talk openly and honestly about how they feel about each other, they cannot make a reasonable decision about how to run the company. Like it or not, the family system or style is what really dictates how things will go in business. So understanding your family system and improving it contributes to a healthier business.

Just as with legal and financial decisions, the emotional or psychological aspects of succession planning usually require the assistance of a professional. Psychologist trained in the dynamics of families as well as the workings of a family business are best suited to guide you through the emotional process of succession planning.

The psychologist's job is to meet with all stakeholders individually and in a group to discuss absolutely everything that can affect the succession plan. This is not a time to be secretive. The future of the business and you livelihood depends upon open and honest communication. Families who don't plan ahead not only lose control of the business, they often have a myriad of other problems associated with the loss of the business, such as infighting, divorce, alcoholism, depression, etc.

A psychologist understands these kinds of "people" problems that are intertwined with business decisions. Their goal therefore is to help you create a plan that suits two purposes, 1) To ensure the success of the business, 2) To ensure the health and happiness of the family.

In order to accomplish these important goals family members need to face the tough issues that most other people avoid.

'Soft' side of estate planning in the family business

Thursday, February 08, 2001




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Most entrepreneurs are so caught up in the passion of their enterprise that they rarely plan ahead for the wealth that will accumulate. Although there is a desire to make money, only a select few entrepreneurs actually make money their goal. Rather wealth is a byproduct of having done well. Furthermore, most entrepreneurs did not grow up in wealthy families, so they don't have role models for managing their money or planning for the continuity of the family business. As a result when it comes time to develop an estate plan, many entrepreneurs are at a loss for where to start, or to even know they should start.

It would seem that the logical place to start is with your attorney, CPA, investment advisor or banker. However, while all of these professionals should play a part in the development of your estate plan eventually, the first stop on the way to a successful estate plan is the psychologist's office to deal with the soft side of the family business. Many an estate plan has been left undeveloped because the interpersonal relationships in the family were counter to the best interests of the business.

It is important to understand that the most important part of our lives are spent not as individuals but in relationships. And the relationships that we hold most dear are those of our family (whether or not we hold them fondly or with resentment). Within the context of a family business this fact is quite evident. Regardless of how successful, famous or old the family business, the family still comes first. Understandably the system that has been around the longest has priority.

Gerald Le Van, an attorney explains this concept from the perspective of the changes that have occurred in the business world in the latter half of the 20th century. The Industrial Revolution that lead to the technological revolution created the philosophy that the business world was like a clock, where successful enterprises were machines, conceived by engineers and monitored by accountants, where the goal was maximum industrial productivity at minimum cost, and workers were a collection of individuals or parts of the machine. Today, however, the business world is not envisioned like a clock, but like a rain forest.

According to Le Van, "Enterprises are no longer machines, but ecosystems whose fitness to survive is determined by their relationships to other organizational ecosystems in the rain forest world. Enterprises are no longer collections of individuals, but systems."

Within the world of family business the rain forest model is very effective. Family firms are a system of family members, in-laws, shareholders and stakeholders. These systems interact with vendors, customers, employees, and the commercial community at large. It is a delicate balance to maintain a successful business and a successful family enterprise when the systems are integrated into a family firm. The stress on the system becomes even greater when it is time to develop a plan for the continuity of the business and the family, and a fair apportionment of the wealth. If the family does not have mature and healthy interpersonal relationships, the process of estate planning can be costly, painful and unsuccessful.

Consider for example a CEO who is about to retire. He has two daughters and his instruction to his attorney is to develop a plan that gives each daughter an equal share. One daughter has worked for years for her father, helping him to manage his investments. She has proven to be a leader and visionary, much like her father. The CEO wants her to succeed him in managing the business because he believes in her competence. The other daughter has never worked for her father but has benefited indirectly from the growth and wealth of the business. Although she has never been interested in the management of the business before, now that her father is retiring, she and her husband want to take a more active position in the company. The first daughter doesn't mind continuing as the president of the company. In fact she believes she deserves the position. But she is not pleased about her sister's new interest, nor her father's decision to treat them equally. Where this family once got along just fine, a new problem is growing that they never had to face before. How would you are your advisors handle this "hot potato"?

Consider the entrepreneurial couple, who for decades have successfully founded and managed three enterprises. They have sent two children through college and now one of them works for the family business. The husband, now 58, would like to retire to the new vacation home they have recently built in a resort community. However, the wife is ten years younger and is not ready to retire. She is still excited by the challenge of managing their investments. Furthermore, she is grooming for the presidency, her son by a previous marriage. She would like to stay on long enough to see him well established in the leadership of the business. There are more than business challenges that this couple faces. Will the marriage withstand one working while the other retires? Will the husband trust that the new president will be trained well by his wife? How do other family members feel who are not related to the wife's son?

Consider the attorney who must advise his client on an estate plan. The attorney and his client, a CEO of a national corporation, have always trusted each other and seldom had a conflict. The attorney has always known that his client is alcoholic, but the alcoholism never interfered in their dealings, even though it did cause great personal tragedy for the CEO (i.e., a divorce and estranged children). Now, however the attorney is in conflict over the advice he must give his client. The CEO wants to place in the presidency the only child who is not estranged from him. Unfortunately this child is alcoholic too and has never held a responsible position within the company. The CEO is ignoring other possible successors, such as loyal executives who are not family members. The attorney appears to be in a no-win situation. If the attorney says nothing, the CEO may proceed with a plan that will ruin the company. If the attorney confronts a non-recovering alcoholic with the foolishness of his plan, he may lose a valuable client. In either case there is no healthy solution.

To create an estate plan that truly integrates the success of the family and the firm, it is necessary to seek the help of a psychologist who understands the soft side of families and particularly those families who are in business together. Cleaning up root interpersonal problems can mean the difference between the development of a meaningful estate plan or the development of increased family conflict. For example, with the help of a psychologist, the father with two daughters learned that "fair" was more appropriate than "equal" when it came to dividing the wealth and the business with his daughters. The entrepreneurial couple learned that their marriage could survive the transition of the wife's son to the presidency if they developed a clear buy-in for the son. Fortunately for the CEO of the national corporation, his son went into alcohol treatment after a serous auto accident. The CEO participated in family therapy at the treatment program, which forced him to look at his own untreated alcoholism. He eventually could see how he was letting his alcoholism make business decisions that were neither sound for the business, nor his family.

If you have worked hard to create an enterprise you can be proud of and if you want to create a legacy to pass onto your children and grandchildren, first evaluate the soft side of your family system for any unresolved issues that could spring up and bring the whole system down, during the process of estate planning. Also be prepared to deal with problems that never would have surfaced except for the need to discuss money matters with family. Then take these concerns and realizations to the psychologist, the professional uniquely trained to help with untangling family knots and reweaving a healthy family/business tapestry.

Are you 'Daddy's little girl' in the family business?

Friday, August 04, 2000




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

My mother was fond of telling me this little aphorism when I was a girl. Perhaps it was because she had two daughters and no sons. Or perhaps it is because she was the only daughter in a family of sons. Whether she was trying to teach me the lesson, or to merely advise me of a fact, I have noticed the truth in this saying more often than not.

The value of relationships does seem to be more important for women than for men. Not that men do not enjoy loving relationships, but that women tend to define themselves more in terms of their relationships. Women and girls are more willing than men and boys to put their needs aside to maintain a relationship. Within a family firm for example, it is often the wife who does not take a formal salary. She is equally likely to forgo a formal title in the corporation, although she is just as hardworking an asset to the business as her husband.

Likewise with daughters. Daughters in family firms often see their roles as supportive of the family. They are not as driven to be leaders as are their brothers. This does not mean they do not want recognition. Rather their first priority is to ensure the success of the loving relationships. After all, these relationships came before the business. They are the driving force behind the business; the reason it came into being.

The research indicates that family owned firms were started by their founders primarily as a way to support the family. The women in family firms still recognize this intent long after the men have turned their attention to developing a thriving enterprise.

But this concern for family first often gets in the way of founders considering their daughters as successors. Although their daughters may be hardworking, college educated, committed to the family enterprise, and have many other talents, founders most often groom their sons to succeed them in the leadership of the business. The research shows that even founders who have no sons overlook the possibility of a daughter taking over the business.

Considering the importance women place on nurturing the family, and considering that a successful family firm requires a cohesive and committed family, daughters may be the most likely choice to succeed the founder of a family firm. In her study of 8 family firms, Collette Dumas identified the roles that daughters typically plan in family firms. Dumas chose only those family firms where the daughters held management positions. She also identified the qualities that make for a successful transition of leadership from fathers to daughters in family firms.

The majority of fathers and daughters that Dumas interviewed expressed great difficulty in managing the ambiguity in defining the daughter's roles in the family and in the family business. The roles assigned by both fathers and daughter ranged from "Daddy's little girl", which emphasizes a fragile, defenseless, dependent position, to that of a tough and independent manager in the business.

While the daughters studied were capable and assumed several roles in the family business, their primary role with their fathers (and which was learned at an early age) was that of defenseless dependent. As one daughter put it, "Even though I've been working here a long time, I still have to kiss him every morning. Otherwise he'll be hurt. I don't think he's made the transition to seeing me as an adult. I'm still his little girl."

While sons may also stay boys in their father's eyes, at least sons come into the family business with the expectation that someday they will take over. Daughters rarely have this illusion. Therefore, they may remain Daddy's little girl indefinitely. This position leads many daughters in family firms to struggle with a sense of identity. Many daughters in family firms, as well as their mothers, work wide by side with their brothers, yet their names are not on the organizational chart.

All of the fathers Dumas interviewed reported that they had never considered their daughters as potential successors in the business before their daughters came to work for them. And all the fathers reported that long periods of time went by after their daughters came to work for them before they considered the idea. Dumas refers to this phenomenon as the "invisible successor." Only when a crisis emerge where the daughter was needed to help out Dad, did either party consider her potential as a successor. Unlike sons, who come to work for the family business to further their career and eventual ownership, daughters come into the family business out of dedication to Dad and the family.

As a result of struggling with these issues (role ambiguity, invisibility and identity), daughters in family firms develop one of three styles according to Dumas: "Caring for the Father," "Taker of the Gold," or "Caretaker of the King's Gold."

In the first style, "Caring for the Father," the daughter may feel a lack of purpose and direction. She has not developed a clear and strong identity. Such people often attach themselves to strong leaders or father figures and become dependent on them in an attempt to fell "alive." In the family firm these daughter are largely oriented toward pleasing the father and caring for his comfort and wishes. His needs come before the daughters.

While there is nothing unhealthy about caring for another person, to do so exclusively not only robs the daughter of her identity, but may harm the firm. If the daughter's behaviors are oriented toward caring for her father to the exclusion of actions that would be beneficial to the organization's effectiveness and survival, she will not be prepared to take over the CEO's role when she succeeds him.

In the second style, "Taker of the Gold," the daughter has taken the opposite extreme by developing a rigid identity or sense of self. She works hard to achieve, even overachieve, but she thinks only of herself. In the case of daughters trying to become independent of fathers, the takers-of-the-gold become more interested in taking charge of the business assets than in responding empathetically to the father or recognizing this accomplishments.

While these daughters are strong and quite capable, they operate independently and thus do not take advantage of the resources available to them to make informed decisions. These daughters have behaviors that are rebellious and disrespectful of the business's norms. In the long run this style produces a great deal of conflict between father and daughter and potential distress for the business.

The third style, "Caretakers of the King's Gold," represents a midpoint between the first two styles where the structure of the identity is harmonious and stable and at the same time less rigid and dramatic. This daughter suffers less from a sense of inner emptiness and is less inclined to continuously prove her existence to others. In other words, this healthy sense of identity allows the daughter in a family firm to simultaneously take charge and take care of the "king's gold" (the business), "the king" (the father), and herself.

This style may seem to cast the daughter back into the dependent role of "Daddy's Little Girl." However, daughters who represent the style of "caretaker of the King's Gold," have found their identity through interdependence with their fathers. While sons cannot feel like men until they break away from Dad, daughters mature through affiliation and interconnectedness. Fathers with this type of daughter find that they can gradually phase out of the business. Their daughter is capable of running the business with out them, but she also values working with her father for as long as he is capable.

Murray Bowen, a family systems psychiatrist has suggested that interdependence is one sign of a healthy family. Certainly this is no less true for a family firm. Fathers and daughters who are able to be respectful of each other, nurture each others developmental needs and both creatively pursue the business are in a better position to make a healthy transition from father to daughter when the time comes for the succession of leadership.

Could Your Wife Run The Business In Your Absence?

Tuesday, June 01, 1999




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Jay was 28 when he founded his sign business. He and his wife Teddie were thrilled when they opened their storefront and sent out the first announcements. As a young couple, they had a lot of energy and worked long hours getting the office and shop ready, buying supplies, arranging office furniture, developing a business plan, joining the local chamber and greeting their first customers.

Jay took over full management of the operation while Teddie kept her full time job as an account executive for a women's fashion company. But Teddie was there through all of the growing pains of the business too. She helped with billing and emptied the trash. She took messages for Jay at home in the evening when he was working late. The goal was to build the business to a level where she would quit her job and come to work with Jay. In the meantime her job provided a steady paycheck and other benefits such as insurance.

As the business grew, so did Jay and Teddie's family and responsibilities. With the first child, Teddie still managed to work full time because her mother and mother-in-law were willing babysitters. However, with the second baby, Teddie and Jay had to look at a more reasonable plan. It just wasn't possible for Teddie to work full time, care for two daughters, and help Jay in the business. Also Jay's Mom wasn't as healthy as she used to be and wasn't available for childcare anymore. Teddie's Mom was still helpful, but she and her husband had retired and wanted more free time. By the time their second daughter was born, the sign business was doing well enough to support the young family without Teddie's income. It would be tight, but the couple decided to take the plunge. Teddie quit her job to have the flexibility to care for her children and help out at the business.

For years Jay and Teddie ran the business this way. Although they shared equally in the ownership of the business and both worked long hours, Jay was really the manager and Teddie the home manager. Teddie would leave early to pick the kids up from school and get them to soccer practice and piano lessons. On some mornings she would come in late to the office because there was a dental appointment or a school field trip that she helped with. At the office, however, she was fully in charge of her department . . . everything that Jay didn't do, such as the bookkeeping, billing, purchasing and replanting the flowerbeds by the front door. Jay did the management, hiring and firing, marketing, customer service and the technical work. Amid all of this the children got more involved with the business, at first just watching dad build a sign, and later learning complex computer work.

If you are typical of most family business owners, you could probably plug your names into this scenario and change only a few details to make it your own story. Likewise, if you are typical of most small business owners, you do not have a succession plan. You have been so busy establishing and growing your business that you haven't looked that far ahead. You may not even have the confidence yet that your business will be around that long. Or you may decide to sell the business and build several other empires before you retire or die. When you were getting your business underway, it never occurred to you that you were building a legacy; you were just going after your dream.

If you are among the rare few who have considered succession planning, more than likely you and your spouse have discussed which child is best suited to be president or if management responsibilities should be shared by siblings. If you are in partnership with your brother, mother, sister-in-law, or some other family member, you probably have a legal and financial plan for how the partnership will transition should one or the other of you die or wish to be bought out. However, if the family business is a sole proprietorship such as Jay and Teddie have, and the husband is the founder and president, it's highly unlikely that you have considered your wife as a successor to the business leadership. Yet it is the wife who is most likely to be thrown into that position with the death of the founder where no succession plan has been established.

In 1984 McKinley conducted an interesting study in which she found that a widow was more than willing to take over management of the business upon her husband's death, especially if she had been working with her husband. But even among those widows not working in the business side-by-side with their husbands, there was a strong desire to take over the management. These widows reported that the business was very meaningful to them, that it was a part of their identity, that they had psychologically helped build the business. They did not want the business to pass out of their hands, even if they didn't know how to run it. Furthermore, most of the widows studied did not know how to manage their husband's business, because they had not been trained. Their function had been auxiliary.

They provided support such as Teddie has done for Jay. Therefore, these widows, untrained in the ins and outs of managing the family business, had to turn to their attorneys, CPAs and other advisors to educate themselves about the business. This is not sufficient training for the complexity of running a small business, as any business owner knows. But these particular women were determined and they learned as their husbands had done . . .by the seat of their pants.

This seat-of-the-pants training may have been sufficient for the founder, but it seems a waste to have the successor not benefit by her predecessor's lessons. Unless the business is a professional practice requiring college and certification that your wife could not readily get upon your death, preparing your wife to take over the business is a logical and practical step for most business owners. A side benefit is that once she is trained, the founder can turn his interests elsewhere, such as expansion or developing a second business entity. Growth of an empire is possible only when you have the flexibility and freedom to explore uncharted territory. If you are busy manning the helm, your growth will be limited to raising prices on product or adding a new line.

Preparing a wife for the presidency is no easy feat, however. It means acknowledging that the founder may die or wish to move onto something else. It means putting things into writing, such as compensation plans for your wife. It means letting go of control and allowing your wife to know all of the company secrets. It means that the marriage itself will be challenged. As the protégé grows in ability and leadership, the mentor may find himself eased out of power before he is ready. Can your marriage stand the strain of your wife being the boss, for example?

Making your wife your equal partner at work (provided she wants the job) and teaching her everything you know, will provide a solid succession plan. She will most likely be a devoted fan of yours and the business, and therefore a loyal and responsible guardian for the business. She will be a much better prepared widow than McKinley found in her study and less likely to lose the business. However, this also means redesigning the business today to accommodate two owners, two managers, two leaders. The consensus model of marriage that most Americans accept as the standard today will be brought into the business setting. Not only will husband and wife have to adjust to this change, but so will employees, customers and others used to a more hierarchical model. Be prepared to change the structure of management when your wife becomes your management partner. No longer can the founder fly by the seat of his pants. Although you may feel that your style is cramped when there are two of you to answer to, remember that having a well trained successor (and one who loves you) means that the business has a much more bright and stable future.


Five must-answer questions for passing on the family-owned business

Monday, November 30, 1998




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Our world is a bundle of contradictions. The other day I read that the American Heart Association will not allow its healthy heart logo to be placed on Post Grapenuts cereal because the company is owned by Phillip Morris, a tobacco company. Grapenuts cereal has relatively no sugar and no fat. On the other hand, the healthy heart logo is on Kellogg's Fruit Loops cereal, which is 50% sugar, because Kellogg's pays the American Heart Association for the privilege. With these kinds of mixed values going on, it's very important that you recognize the only one who can take care of you is you. Not even a private non-profit organization can be relied upon to guide your eating habits. While it may be easier in the moment to focus on only those pleasant uncomplicated things in life (such as the taste of Fruit Loops) in the long run ignoring the contradictions may prove quite hazardous.

People are often surprised to find out that I can have negative, suspicious, even paranoid thoughts, and that I waste my time researching things like the contractions of the American Heart Association. After all, I am a psychologist and professionally I encourage entrepreneurs and their families to find healthy constructive solutions to the problems that life dishes out. So if I am professionally supposed to look on the bright side, why then do I point out everything that is or could go wrong?

The simple answer is balance. We live in a world of duality ... positive/negative, good/bad, male/female ... and balance is the act of giving each side attention and respect. Having a positive outlook on life is just fine, but looking only on the bright side is like the proverbial ostrich with his or her head stuck in the sand. You also need to look at what is going wrong, or not working, or not even in the ballpark of reality. If you fail to account for the negative side of things, you fail to plan and live your life fully. How can you correct your mistakes, if you never sort through your flaws and problems? To sum it up, my motto is : HOPE FOR THE BEST, but PLAN FOR THE WORST. That way you've got everything covered.

For entrepreneurial couples and families in business, there are two unpleasant areas which are regularly ignored and therefore never planned for ... death and divorce. Some of the juiciest scandals come from family firms that failed to plan for the succession of the business after death or divorce. Because the founder never thought he or she would die, they never developed a plan for whom to pass the business on to. Even if they had a successor in mind, they may never have told this person, let alone trained them. Furthermore, the founder usually has no plans for employees, customers, vendors or even their files or inventory. If you ask these founders what they would like upon their deaths, they often have very specific wishes, but they have no plan to carry them out.

Still there are more entrepreneurs planning for business succession than planning for divorce. Planning for the possibility of divorce of an entrepreneurial couple is a real taboo, apparently. Most couples fear that if you plan ahead for the possibility of divorce, you are setting yourself up to create a divorce.

Matt and Kristen were a happily married young couple when they started their modem manufacturing business in their garage. They had a toddler and one school age child at the time. Kristen's Dad loaned them the startup capital. Both Matt and Kristen had the technical expertise for the business, since they each had a degree in engineering and had originally met while working at a high-tech company in the Silicon Forest. It all seemed perfect and it was for awhile. But business started booming and employees were required. Then the garage got too small and a warehouse was rented. Then a third baby came along and Kristen was fatigued trying to cover the home front as well as the business. Soon she opted for staying at home and Matt ran the business.

Even this set up worked for awhile because Matt was a capable business manager and had hired excellent help. He did not have to work excessive hours because he and Kristen had designed an excellent product that practically sold itself, especially with their combined contacts in the industry. So Matt was able to be available to his family almost as much as when he had worked a 9 to 5 job. The problems emerged, however, when Kristen became resentful that she was no longer at the helm of the thriving business. After all, she had prepared herself through education and training for a career that she thrived on before the marriage and children. Although she loved her children and Matt, she felt a great loss at not being able to use her education and intellectual talents too.

Eventually Kristen's resentments grew to the level that she and Matt couldn't talk anymore without a fight. Matt started working longer hours at the office. The children were stressed and scared because Mommy and Daddy weren't happy. When the baby came down with a serious illness requiring hours of Kristen's time and emotional energy, she brought up the topic of divorce. As clear as their thinking had been about how to develop the business, how to use their combined talents and resources to secure a financially successful future, Matt and Kristen had never considered divorce and therefore had no plan for parting ... as marriage partners nor as business partners.

But let's back up and take a look at what might have happened had Matt and Kristen built into their life/business plan the possibility of divorce, right from the start.

If they planned for an amicable divorce or dissolution of the partnership, they not only would have a legal document to follow (such as a prenuptial or partnership agreement), but they also would have had to look at what could go wrong and make contingency plans so the worst may not happen. In other words, in planning for the worst, they would look at these things among many others:

  • What if the business grew so big it moved out of the garage?
  • What if there was more to handle at home requiring one or the other partner to quit working the business and focus more on home management?
  • What are the desires of each partner with regard to career and business?
  • What are the desires of each partner with regard to the children and family development?
  • What are the desires of each partner for their marriage?

Paradoxically, by planning for the possibility of divorce right from the start of a marriage and business venture, the entrepreneurial couple has to focus on those things that actually will help strengthen their marriage/partnership. By digging deeply into who you are, and what you want, you have the opportunity to negotiate with each other to make your desires come true. Instead of resentments building, the trouble spots are planned for. Therefore the entrepreneurial couple has a better chance of facing the problems head on, learning from them, or even avoiding them. Planning for the worst in this case isn't a prescription for divorce, but insurance against it.

Remember the question isn't "What do I do with my business or marriage/family if I die?" The question is "What do I do with my business or marriage/family when I die?" And the question isn't "What do I do with my business and marriage/family when we divorce?" The question is "What do I do with my business and marriage/family if we divorce?" Death is inevitable and those who don't face this one are avoiding their responsibilities to others and courting a miserable demise for themselves. Divorce on the other hand is not inevitable, but avoiding thinking and talking about the possibility is just as foolish as ignoring the inevitability of death. If you want to get started planning for the worst but hoping for the best with regard to creating a healthy, long-term, successful marriage/business partnership with your spouse, try asking yourselves this question:

If one or the other of us wants a divorce in the future, why would that be and what can we do now to prevent this.