Too many family businesses make decisions in ways that can be described as autocratic, imbalanced, undemocratic, unstrategic, and they who has the gold, rules.

It may feel right that those that control the means of production are the victors who get the spoils, but you will surely get majorly klonked by competitors who value the perspectives of all stakeholders, who see it as a good use of time to develop thoughtful decision making, figure out what it means that “our people are our greatest asset,” and who define “increase shareholder value” as valuing your shareholders.

We live in a very complex world, where wars are encouraged by the munitions industry, where amazon buying Whole Foods means cheaper salmon but costly in untold ways, where you can go online and hire a cartoonist from the other side of the country or the world to depict an idea you had for a very affordable sum, without ever meeting the person (see cartoon, above). Business as usual is the first symptom of your imminent demise.

When I ran our family’s 4th generation childrenswear store, I could have easily spent a king’s ransom on ads, but knew it was safe to spend around 2%. But when times were good, it was good to know that I should still invest that 2% to market ourselves. Likewise, it’s good to know that it’s a safe and vital expenditure of your time and energy to figure out how you’re going to get where you’re going, how to row in the same direction, and what to do when there’s suddenly a geyser in your boat. This has been true for all time, at least since those adorable truisms like “a stitch in time saves nine” and “if it ain’t broke, break it.”

At a recent talk, I developed a list of “tells” that tell consultants that the ship might go aground sometime soon. One of those was “we have a meeting scheduled weekly, but don’t actually meet.” (buy me lunch to hear all the others)

The Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley is really, really great at the kinds of discussions that coalesce the best thinking of everyone. Also, hearing the dumb ideas and perspectives that may reveal a lot of good stuff, when poked at. We have many resources for helping you talk the talk, walk the walk, and last, but not least, squawk the squawk. Maybe you’d prefer to keep these things under the rug, but believe me, somebody is going to trip on that, and break a hip.

If you’d like to get more fairness and communication firmly planted as a company thing, let’s tawk! (excuse me, I am from New Yawk)

About the Author

The Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley is a resource for families in business, and one giant aspect of that is the next generation, working its way into leadership; often discovering how to operate as a sibling or cousin team; assuming the risks in a more competitive market than ever before; needing to innovate and evolve to avoid failure; and realize how to achieve that magic state of work/life balance, combined with doing what you love, as well as using your unique talents, different than what your family has known before. This page will be a place for you to connect, explore, and express yourself in the local and global communities of the Nxt Gen of family business.

Ira Bryck is president of the Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley (in Western Mass). The center provides a learning community for family and closely held companies, which include dinner forums, confidential roundtables, and varied workshops; and produces the website and advice column, Dear Ira: Fresh Air and Cold Water for the Perplexed Business Family. Ira confers with entrepreneurial families on an array of usual and unusual challenges. He is the author of three plays about life in family business, including A Tough Nut to Crack, based on his 17 years in his family's 4th generation childrenswear business on Long Island, where he served simultaneously in every role from president to tailor. The plays have been performed internationally over 100 times. Ira hosts The Western Mass Business Show on WHMP in Northampton Mass, where he interviews business owners and expert advisors about what inspires them, keeps them awake, helps them succeed, and makes them unique.

For more info, contact Ira Bryck at 413 835 0810 or

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