5 Keys to Successfully Leading a Family Business

Family businesses aren’t always easy, but they are most definitely be worth it.


5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


For many, a family business is the epitome of the American Dream. To follow in the footsteps of your father and his father and continue the family legacy is the ultimate dream. While there are no secrets to a thriving family business, every business has a unique recipe for success. The Titus family Is no exception.

If you ask my father and CEO, Ray Titus, just how it happened, he’ll tell you the real competitive advantage is — and always has been — family.

As the third-generation brand President for the family-owned sign franchise, I’ve learned everything about succeeding in business from my family. That’s because the same mindset that builds strong family work environments also empowers businesses to achieve more together.

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, about 90 percent of American businesses are family-owned or controlled. So, with all the benefits of a family business, why aren’t more of them winning in their industries? I believe it has a lot to do with maximizing relationships – and while it’s vital in family businesses, it goes a long way towards achieving success in any business model. That brings me to our five keys to success:

1. Recognize the advantages of family ownership.

One of the most attractive benefits in a family-owned business is fast, agile, nimble decision making. The era of digital transformation is here. Quicker decisions must be made whether it’s leveraging data, closing the gap with customers, or something else. Now, more than ever, businesses must make decisions, as my father would say, in a New York minute. It is more than a trend; there’s plenty of research to support an action-oriented business model. In a review of traits linked to organizational health, McKinsey researchers found that businesses scoring high for agility also ranked within the top quartile of overall business health. For their purposes, agile companies were those who could successfully combine speed and stability without sacrificing quality. The Harvard Business Review also reported that decision-making windows are shrinking, and managers must continually produce results in less time.

Related: How to Sustain Family Businesses?

 

Speed: In family-owned businesses, decisions are often made immediately – without lengthy approvals or formal votes. The speed of change either moves companies forward or holds them back. For us, our family is inherently a team that wants to get things done – we have always embraced change and growth as being fundamental to our core values.

Stability: Many companies struggle with balancing current gains against business longevity. In a family business, stability is not in question when words like legacy and heritage are used daily. It simplifies decision making by establishing a preferred approach. For over 30 years, our company has thrived, and we make decisions that let us continue that story. Along the way, our leadership has experienced longevity within the industry – allowing keen insight into this now-passing fad in the business world, and what is truly a shift in the way business happens. That kind of expertise is invaluable.

Commitment: With a family business, there is a greater sense of commitment and accountability. Younger generations are expected to buckle down and grow what they’ve inherited. Unlike some resumés that are built by strategically jumping from one career to the next, those involved with a family business must find a way to make things work.

Vision: Nothing is as gratifying as everyone being on the same page and pulling in the same direction. A legacy of shared values and vision, coupled with long-term commitment, is what transforms those involved in a family business to not simply look at their own success, but to also become stewards for future generations.

2. Treat family members equally.

Seniority doesn’t win; skill and hard work does. Sometimes the big win will come from one team member. Other times it will come from someone else. Don’t limit people’s ability to make a positive impact simply because of age or time with the company.

Related: How to Run a Family Business Without Killing Each Other

3. Empower the next generation.

It is human nature to be resistant to change. It takes practice to be able to recognize change and evaluate its opportunities and drawbacks. That means you have to allow change while remembering your roots, your core values, and key business principles. If you don’t let change in, progress will never happen.

4. Innovate

There is no overstating how necessary it has become for businesses to break away from the clutter. That takes people who think creatively to offer a fresh perspective on new ideas. Cultivate a business dynamic that welcomes innovation…and the people who inspire it.

Related: 9 Essentials for Any Family Business to Thrive

5. Business is business, family is family.

Conflict happens in business. You won’t always see eye-to-eye with everyone. That’s no reason to ever make it personal (or take it personally for that matter). Whether it’s an actual family member or a valued team member, don’t let business dealings — no matter how frustrating — become a source of difficulty or resentment outside the business.

Family businesses aren’t always easy, but they are most definitely be worth it. Appreciate the value each person brings to the table, encourage their contributions, and you’ll see a business that has what it takes to be a leader.

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