Generational Family Businesses Thrive on Open and Effective Communication

Published: May 3, 2023  |  

Founder of ICON Wealth and Legacy Partners


Illustration by Sarameeya Aree

Last month, we discussed the definition of success. Today, let’s talk about how open and effective communication can lead to success in a generational family business. 

Consider the story of a family-owned business that began in 1943 when Grandma and Grandpa started manufacturing small oak wine racks in their garage in Dayton, Ohio. Today, 60 years later, their two adult children and four grandchildren all work in the company, which supplies racks to every major restaurant chain and recently launched a division that designs and installs custom cellars in homes and hotels. The company is an industry leader and is now worth more than $250 million.

This success did not come easily, as is the case with many family businesses. The company faced various challenges over the years, including fluctuating oak prices, losing key employees to competitors and some health issues. However, one constant that kept the company afloat and on the path to real success was open and effective communication, which has remained consistent since day one.

Grandma and Grandpa didn’t always agree and had their fair share of hostile conversations over the years. However, they never went to bed until they had resolved the issue at hand. Building a successful company is never easy, especially one that now employs three generations.

Clarifying roles and responsibilities was a significant issue that needed to be addressed when their son and daughter joined the business. Grandma and Grandpa needed their children to understand that this was a business and hard work was expected. They needed open communication to clarify each family member’s role and responsibilities within the business as they struggled initially to grow. 

Family dinners on Sundays were often preceded by some strong conversations, but like Grandma and Grandpa, the family did not start their meal until some type of resolution had been achieved. This allowed the family to prevent conflicts and misunderstandings and ensured everyone was on the same page. They did not always agree but give and take was expected.

As the family began to scale, collaboration and innovation were two key drivers. Everyone felt comfortable bringing ideas to the table and they were able to work together to identify new opportunities and solutions. This was a critical time in the growth of the business, and looking back, this was the period when they started to become an industry leader.

The value of the company continued to grow exponentially. The winery business in the U.S., primarily California, was also flourishing. The family was now at a crossroads. Do they sell or continue to scale? The family chose to transition the company from G1 (generation 1) to G2/G3. Although I did not work directly with this company, succession and transition planning is a large part of the work that I focus on at ICON Wealth & Legacy Partners with my clients. It is not an easy process and it often comes with conflict. The $64k question though is how do we manage the conflict to create the outcome that we ultimately strive for. 

Although conflicts are inevitable in any business, let alone a family business involving three generations, open and effective communication is the key to conflict resolution. The conflicts within this family have always been resolved quickly, amicably and respectfully. When family members communicate openly and honestly, they can address issues before they escalate and work together to find mutually beneficial solutions.

In summary, open and effective communication is essential for the success of any family business, particularly when three generations are involved. By clarifying roles and responsibilities, fostering collaboration and innovation, facilitating knowledge transfer, building trust and respect, and resolving conflicts, family members can work together to ensure the long-term success of the business. 

Here’s to great communication and the ultimate success of your family business!

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