Relationships are key to Family Business Continuity

A thriving family business is the result of the blood and sweat of an entrepreneur. Countless hours and innumerable weekends of focused work creating and perfecting the business model. Often the owner is so immersed in the business he begins to spend time away from the family and sees his children growing horizontally rather than vertically.

His dedication to the business creates the business empire which sustains the lifestyle of the family. In the mind of the entrepreneur, it is proof of the love he has for the family. After all the business empire he has created pays for the lifestyle today and for days to come. Children on the other hand, accustomed to luxury consider it an entitlement. They grow up in a bubble, ignorant of the hard work of their father. And take for granted their lifestyle.

As the children grow older the father expects them to join his business. Unbeknownst to him, the family business is perceived as an obstacle to a relationship by his children. For years he has either complained about problems or remained absent from their lives. The family business is always the excuse for his ambivalence. His children do not want to spend their life the way he has although they would like to continue to enjoy the lifestyle the family business offers. A paradox of sorts it is!

It is unfortunate that for most fathers when reality sets in, it is too late. If fathers want their children to succeed them in the business, they must invest in their relationship. It is an investment of emotions, time and effort worth the returns.

Starting with spending time and moving on to communication. The father must be available for deeper meaningful conversations. Centering around purpose and plans. Children have a subconscious need to meet expectations. If fathers and children can together create a roadmap for the future, it saves them many a heartache. For through this bonding both realize shortcomings or areas of weakness that can be worked on. For instance, a child may be mentored through immersion in activities requiring the skill they lack.

A good practice to achieve this is to take children to work after school or weekends. Taking children to work at an early age helps them develop a sense of the business. It enables them to appreciate the wealth generation process. Sharing stories of successes and failures teaches them humility.

Children must find their father approachable. In most family businesses children feel alienated and not connected. This alienation and lack of connection is what stops them from either not working in the family business or working on the sidelines. Both are problematic for the sustainability of the family business. The second situation is even more problematic as it strains the relations of both parties.

They become bitter with each other. Both in their own bubble, each not wanting to make an effort to understand the other. The father resents the child for not appreciating the business empire and the son resents the father for being too controlling. If only they would communicate in all honesty. Easier said than done!

Fathers of young children, should invest in relationships. Making time to watch their children grow. For fathers of older children, it is still not too late. Listen to your children. They belong to another time. They may not articulate their fears but they are afraid of failing in front of their hero. Be their mentor and guide, celebrate their successes and help them recover from setbacks. After all you have been there and done that.

Aysha Anas Iftikhar

Aysha Anas Iftikhar is Founding Academic Director Family Managed Business Diploma Program at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi