The family business has been in my life as long as I’ve been in my life. I was fortunate to be born into a family that enjoyed a very successful family business which was a part of a very successful young state. I loved business from the very beginning, always have, always will. My sister reminds me that I would set up a grocery store in my room and make her come in and shop when we were kids. For some reason I’ve always been fascinated by the challenge of running a successful business.
After the grocery store idea, I moved on to delivering afternoon papers for the Phoenix Gazette and later morning papers for the Arizona Republic. In those days the paperboy had to pay for his papers, go around and collect money from all the customers and manage his receivables. It was my first business. Cool dark mornings, and customers you could never find for collections, gave me a good taste of the challenge of running a business.
My continuing education and path to family business
High school brought more business education. Delivering pizzas, selling Kirby vacuums door-to-door (I sold the first door I knocked on!) and hard labor on a roofing crew all made for great experience toward finding work that I truly enjoyed.
After earning my college degree in business administration I joyfully found my way to the family business as a business professional – a dream I had since for as long as I could remember. The only sad part was my grandfather had passed away and I was not able to work directly with him, although his philosophies, values and business strategies were still noticeably present throughout the business. It felt like I was working with him even if I wasn’t.
I was however, working for his son, my uncle, who was a very disciplined, strong business operator in his own right. My uncle embodied most of my grandfather’s best qualities that led to a successfully run business.
I started in outside sales, moved into sales management; transferred over to project and operations management, before eventually being promoted to Vice President of Operations at the age of 35. It was an unbelievable opportunity to be exposed to every aspect of running a successful business.
My family business challenges
It wasn’t all a bed of roses. As I now realize, almost every professional career has its difficulties and challenges. As I grew more confident and focused on my personal and professional values and vision it became apparent that my uncle and I weren’t on the same page with some of the things that mattered most to me.
Now I faced a daunting dilemma. My life’s dream had been to lead the family business into the next stage but it became ever apparent to me that following my dream would mean having to work in an environment that was not as personally rewarding as I wanted. About the same time I lost two of my best friends to terminal illness and I began to realize life was short.
The family business, which always seemed like such a beautiful gift was now feeling more like a tremendous source of frustration and disappointment. It was causing friction in my marriage and tension in my stomach. I knew something had to change.
After much soul searching the painful realization occurred that my only means of changing the situation was to venture out on my own to see if I could create a professional career that allowed me to embrace the values that matter most to me.
A coach of my own
As part of my own personal journey I hired an executive business coach who helped me sort out what mattered most, how I was working, where I was most effective and where I was most challenged. I loved the process, learned a lot about myself and suddenly saw an emerging new profession that would allow me to marry two of my greatest loves; business effectiveness and personal effectiveness into a career!
I asked my wife if I could start over and follow my new dream to be an executive business coach. After some contemplation I was blessed with her support and proceeded to notify my uncle that I would be resigning my position and all of its security to pursue a new career.
I’ll never forget his response. He asked “is there any assurance that you can make a living doing that?” When I told him no he looked at me as if I were a bit crazy.
I successfully launched a business coaching practice that gave me the opportunity to work with business leaders from a variety of industries from coast to coast. I loved the work and so did the clients – business leaders were getting great results and I was able to have the creative expression and autonomy I had so desperately wanted.
Focusing on helping family businesses
Then came an interesting fork in the road. I had spent 7 years in my coaching career working with executives in corporate America. I had a family law attorney asked me if I would be interested in bringing the business coaching to family businesses given my extensive experience in family business.
My answer was immediate. “I’m not interested in working in family businesses -I had enough of that in my prior career” He pressed on and encouraged me to reconsider. It eventually led to an introduction to one of his family clients.
What happened next was surprising. I had been away long enough that I no longer felt the emotions about the family business and now had a new sense of objectivity and perspective having worked with corporate leaders. The family and I hit it off right away and I was able to bring great value and objectivity to their leadership and succession conversations.
My path came back to the family business world but in a way that was unexpected. I could feel the pain and suffering of the families because of my firsthand experience but now I had the objectivity and tools to help them create a different path for themselves. I absolutely loved working with the families.
See, what I realized on the journey is that frustrations and disappointments live not only in the family business but in corporate America. Business can be difficult and challenging. Working with different personalities can be exhausting but when you overlay the family dynamics it becomes a very blurred and complicated situation.
My uncle, whom I found great difficulty working with, was very similar to many successful CEOs. He was detail oriented, a bit conservative at times, and brought his style to his position. In that particular case his style and my style didn’t work well together but we didn’t really have the tools to sort it out and find a different path.
In business coaching and facilitation I have a whole set of tools that helps people take inventory, make good choices and find better approaches for themselves and their families.
After working with families over the past several years I have become more committed and more focused than ever on helping family businesses end their frustration and suffering. Family businesses can be such a beautiful gift but too often they turn into a major source of frustration that ripples through all of the family relationships.
Family Business Performance Center
In 2012 with the help of my advisors we dreamed up the Family Business Performance Center as an online resource for families to gain free access to tools to help their family business succeed. Peace, purpose and prosperity rose to the surface as, to me, the key ingredients to family business success.
Peace – learning to get along or even accepting your differences or accepting that you weren’t meant to be in the family business and being okay with that
Purpose – is what I wish for everyone for the work that they do in their professional life. When you have the opportunity to work with purpose it makes your daily work so much more rewarding and enjoyable.
Prosperity – is an important score card financially and emotionally. Great family businesses create prosperity across the entire family system.
Thank you for taking a few minutes to learn about my journey and please join me in my mission to help family businesses. Register at the site, start a new practice, tell a friend and together let’s create better businesses and stronger families.
Maybe we can inspire a next generation of entrepreneurs!