‘I don’t run a business, I run a brand.’ Charles Schultz. Founder and CEO, Starbucks.
Successful successors speak in brand. As successor, your task (if you choose to accept it) will be to find and secure the hidden promise of ownership; a promise to all the stakeholders in the business to capture and communicate a purpose. A purpose to resonate with social and environmental obligations as well as financial ones. A promise to attract and retain non-family talent to innovate and grow the company in a manner consistent with the values of the family; a promise to the next generation of successors (your siblings and cousins) to prepare them as future owners; a promise to those who elect to commit to a career in the business to support them as they manage their ‘impact of ownership’; a promise to effectively position the family and family ownership as the key stakeholder alongside management as the company grows.
A promise that will require clarity of thought, consistency of application and courage in leadership; a fresh approach. An approach that personifies, embodies and captures your family as a brand; the family brand.
As a successor, you don’t run a family business, you manage a family brand.
Ownership is not often shown in a positive light. Excess profit, malpractice, greed or less than sustainable practices all may be – and often are – ascribed to the problems or shortcomings of ownership. Business – especially big business – is not trusted: the 2019 Edelman (www.edelman.com) Trust Barometer discovered that 69% of respondents trusted family business, a figure 13% ahead of that for business in general. In so far as ownership is understood, that of and by families is a form of ownership which resonates.
If this is the case, why not harness it? The family as brand is an effective and fresh way to think on, position and organise ownership. The family brand has the potential to carry a premium with consumers. Secondly, the family brand is an effective and lasting way to position the family alongside other stakeholders – especially management. Management understand and use the language, frameworks and messaging of ‘brand’ as a routine and necessary part of their skills. Finally, the family as a ‘brand’ resonates with the next generation of family successors; open, with clear language and a possibility (and promise) of many ways to contribute.
Successor Language for Ownership
Succession – the re-shaping of the old for the new – offers the opportunity to develop and test this new language for ownership. A language internal to the company, the family and externally to all other stakeholders. A ‘natural’ language with an ability to appeal to and engage individuals, groups and the wider community.
The family brand is that combination of designed words and organised activities that facilitate and enable continuity of family ownership. Words are chosen to be clear, consistent (in application) and inclusive; together they make up the ‘language of ownership’.
As successor your task is a dual one; to clarify and communicate your purpose and position your family brand.
- Purpose: to choose those words (your ‘language’) which embody family ownership and to insist on the manner and timing of where those words are communicated and referenced, and
- Position: to identify and organise the unique processes and activities that recognise, refresh and re-enforce the family brand with any and all stakeholders.
- Clarify your Values.
The first thing to do is understand your family-in-business. What do you bring as a family to the commercial undertakings of your business? What do you stand for? Once a business has survived foundation and set-up, the work then moves to establish the essence or core. The way successful families do this is through their values; what they believe, stand for and ‘think’.
The way the company is managed, how it engages with customers and suppliers, its readiness to honour any and all contracts once entered into, are all captured in the values. Initially in the ‘mind’ of the founder, the values are ‘passed’ on to his/her successors through example and reference. Values legitimise behaviours and attitudes; indeed, they are often what the company is best known for.
The behaviours, reputation and integrity of your company are what is spoken of by others when you (as successors) are not in the room.
The words used are your ‘values’, the essence of who and what you are.
These, then are your foundation. The clarity afforded by values also serves to indicate and work towards achievement of a strategic vision or purpose. That which your family wants to achieve as owners. Values are a store of historical value and enduring social beliefs and practices. They stand the test of time, draw on the behaviours of the family which have got the company to where it is and indicate those behaviours that will get you to where you want to go to. Your vision.
Values become the embodiment of the past and the intended future as manifest in what you as successors do now (i.e. in the present). They are your glue.
What you can do as a Successor to Clarify your family ‘brand’.
Family Values – codify your values. Discuss, think on, walk away, re-engage, choose and inform;
Strategy – state the ownership intent, parameters and permissions that flow from the values once identified;
Narrative – write or speak your stories. Your history through individuals, stages or with reference to political or economic conditions and the challenges faced by your families’ company. Illustrate the ‘values-in-action’ in cases of adversity, failure or improbability.
What you can if/when you move to a non-family managed company.
Reference the family values where the business is one of scale and/or where the day-to-day management of the company is undertaken by non-family ‘professional’ managers. Harness these values as a store of history and legacy of your family as re-enforcement of the continuity ownership. Likewise, values are also a measure by which to assess (and if necessary) to censure, the way in which the company is managed in the ‘absence’ of the family. Values are a call to vigilance.
- Organise for Consistency.
As the company and family grow, you will need to organise. Your aim is a degree of consistency in the relationship between your family and your company. Organisation also serves to indicate family intent as to long-term ownership and commitment towards a consistent (long-term?) strategy for the company.
In organising you are aiming to achieve two things. First to set out a structure for the family to enable it to discuss and achieve consensus on how it manages itself. Secondly, agreement on how it manages its relationship with the company it owns. Such organisation of the family sets out consistent routines on how decisions will be brought forward for discussion and agreement.
In brand terms you are establishing the responsibilities, boundaries and prerogatives of the family. Your words and language are thus primarily intended for an internal audience (the family, the management) and should be consistent with your established and communicated values.
By organising you set in place the processes, policies and systems to facilitate the effective management of the company for optimum performance and innovation. It becomes clear to all what role(s) the family sees for itself; consistency underpins the brand.
What you can do as a Successor to for Consistency of your family ‘brand’.
Family Brand ‘Forum’: set up and or fully participate in a discussion and decision body (Family Council, Family Assembly) for agreement on relevant issues and policy;
Family Brand ‘Agreement’: codify your vision for the family, for the company and how you will work together. Either by custom and form or more formally in a document (also known as a Family Constitution or Charter). A priority is to both engage and develop your next generation of successors;
Family Brand ‘Ambassadors’: identify and fill leadership roles with family members. Individuals who will provide both leadership and visible example; ambassadors for the family and the values.
What you can do if/when you transition to a non-family managed company.
Aim to position the family ‘brand’ within and alongside the ‘voices’ of management, the executive, customers, government and society. In effect ‘agency-light’. Organise to underline and give reference/evidence to the existence and competitive advantage (where evident) of family ownership.
- Cultivate and Insist on Leadership.
Once you have clarified your values and organised for consistency of relationships and policy, how can you remain ahead? The family as brand can position for and sustain leadership in two ways:
- As prompt to discovery and engagement by family and non-family managers seeking a career in the company, and
- As statement of ownership continuity and intent.
Prompt to discovery and engagement.
One of the principal aims of the family brand is to attract and retain both successors and non-family as potential management talent. As a trusted employer, non-family talent is attracted to employment in a stable company with clarity of intent, aspirations to grow and effective management. (www.edelman.com) Non-family talent will bring ideas, networks and energy.
A clear ‘family’ message motivates as prompt to discovery and engagement by the next generation of successors. The message should be clear as to the expected role(s) of the family – as managers, owners, entrepreneurs – or possibly all three. Successors may be interested in committing to a career and – ultimately – to leadership of the family ‘brand’. Without such leadership there is no succession.
It is up to you as a successor to clarify and simplify what this involves. Successors (your siblings, cousins) will believe what they can discover for themselves. A task for you is to originate and develop routines such that other family members may learn in a hands-on-way about the company they will one-day own and may work in. Succession needs to be generous to work.
Statement of ownership continuity and intent.
To think and work in ‘brand’ is to position the family alongside other stakeholders in the company and externally with customers, consumers and society. A clear, unambiguous intent to family ownership for the ‘long-term’ is an endorsement of the family brand in the minds of all who deal with you. Indeed, as you move to organise for succession the first thing to do is to agree (or not, as the case may be) if you are to remain in business together (a family-in-business) through the next generation of successors.
Responsibilities, scope and remit of companies have changed significantly in the past ten years. Purpose is no longer confined to ‘make a profit’ but must encompass social, environmental and community objectives. What is your (family) company for? Debate and pick your purpose(s) wisely.
Finally, efforts towards clarity, consistency and leadership of the family brand set the way for the encouragement and preparation of the next generation of successors as owners. An ownership which promises emotional as well as financial benefit. Ownership which promises to pay attention to (and if possible, deliver on) community and environmental imperatives. Something to believe in – and continue.
What you can do as a Successor to Lead your family ‘brand’.
Discovery and Engagement
Family ‘value’ to the company: communicate what this will be, clarify expectations and the hurdles to selection;
Informed Opportunity: explain and present the company to the family, younger successors as a possibility (informed opportunity). Simplify your language to explain what you do and how you do it. Use language that is inclusive and meritocratic and free (thankfully) of management jargon.
Employment Brand: give adequate attention to the position and language to describe career opportunities in your family business. Aim for a balance of family heritage, values and continuity intent, with opportunities to contribute, innovation and progress.
Ownership Continuity and Intent
Engagement with Successors: refine your language beyond that of management (which is exclusive, coded) to one for ownership (inclusive, open);
Family Brand Forum: set and track reference to ownership values, intent and continuity in company communications and material;
Active Learning: engage and learn from/with other families-in-business, in particular those who have achieved a reputation as a progressive family company with evident family leadership.
What you can do if/when you transition to non-family management.
The development and cultivation of family talent within a process which is ‘branded’ i.e. identifiable, resourced, tracked. ‘Brand’ progress tracked within identified and tasked structures – i.e. Company Board, Family Brand Forum (Family Council), Advisory Board, Assembly. Recognise and allow for the fact that company purpose will be separate (although) linked to that of your family. Finally, motivate to participate. Do not rely exclusively on a constitution or charter (usually written in legalese) as a route to engage, excite and motivate. Think on a family ‘brand’ plan with inclusive, clear language to motivate, engage and release the latent energy and creativity in your co-successors.
The Family Brand.
Successful successors speak in brand. They recognise the potential of family ownership, organise for consistency and anticipate the need to present family ownership in a progressive, engaging and inclusive language. This sets the basis for the relationship between management and ownership. Secondly, it allows for common cause as to the purpose of the family company. Finally, the use of ‘brand’ and inclusive language will encourage and excite the next generation of successors to leadership and beyond. The language of brand will motivate and enable those whom you as successor must find and exhibit common cause into the future if your family business is to both survive and flourish.
The following references provide information about and examples of the family brand:
Family Business Branding: Leveraging Stakeholder Trust. Institute for Family Business. Report at www.ifb.org.uk
Purpose: Why Are We Here? Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 2019. www.hbr.org
2019 Edelman Trust Barometer. www.edelman.com
Branding the Family Business: resource note. Institute for Family Business. www.ifb.org.uk
See the following websites for examples of family branding in action:
Philip is a leadership coach and mentor for family business owners and family business successors. He previously held positions as manager, Head of the Family Council and Family Director within his family business, over a 25 year period. He founded and ran FBN Ireland (www.fbnireland.ie), a network to support families-in-business. He is currently writing a book on successor talent development within business owning families.
Philip can add value to families-in-business in the following ways:
- As Coach to family business owners or successors;
- As Mentor to family business owners or successors;
- Advisor on Successor performance and development;
- Facilitator for learning of family business management, ownership and leadership development.
For additional information please see his website www.philipmackeown.ie or his profile on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/philipmackeown/ He can be contacted on email at firstname.lastname@example.org .