KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. (WLVT) - Family businesses face a set of unique challenges; in addition to the usual work of building a business, they have to maintain family harmony. Around 100 family business forums exist throughout the country to assist and advise family businesses, usually run through universities.
But one Montgomery County firm, a family business itself, has created a community of family businesses helping each other.
“Family businesses are complex because families are involved,” said Henry Landes, founder of family business consulting firm Delaware Valley Family Business Center. “It’s very difficult for family business owners to tell the truth to their family members, and if they don’t do that, it’s a disservice to their family member as well as to the company.”
Landes founded the Telford-based Delaware Valley Family Business Center in 1988, which works with companies through common family business snafus. Following some of his own practices, Landes passed on the business to his second cousin, Sally Derstine, five years ago. She said many business leaders fall into the same traps when trying to keep the business in the family.
“They kind of end up in the family business because it’s kind of what expectations what might be and they’re not sure what they want to do. It’s kind of the worst-case scenario,” said Derstein, managing partner at the center. “But for those that choose it, it can really be a wonderful thing because they have shared values, a shared history together, and they really care about each other and love each other. It can really be a competitive advantage when everybody chooses to work together. “
In addition to working with family businesses one-on-one, the center runs periodic Peer Group Leadership Labs for family businesses to work together.
“Very often, family businesspeople think they’re so different from other people and their businesses are so different, and nobody could possibly understand what they’re going through or some of the troubles they have or some of the difficulties they have,” said Bill Wanger of Fox Rothschild LLP. “When they get together with other family businesses and they realize that other people have the same issues and are going through the same difficulties, there’s a certain sense that, wow, I can talk to these people because they understand me.”
The center hosted a special forum Nov. 15 celebrating its 30th anniversary. Member of dozens of family businesses came to share their experience and support the center.
Some of the expected 230 guests couldn’t attend due to inclement weather, but others braved the snow, some traveling from several states away; Karen Keim of Keim Lumber drove all the way from Ohio.
Keim Lumber was founded in 1911 and is now in its fourth generation of family ownership.
“There’s a lot of unspoken things that go along with it when it’s been father passed down to son, and sometimes there’s a lot of dynamics that go along with that,” said Keim, whose husband is currently president of Keim Lumber.
Rather than measuring success by calendar quarters, many family businesses measure success by the number of generations involved. It’s not always easy to pass down the business; though 70 percent of family business owners want to pass the business on to the next generation, only 30 percent are actually able to do so, according to a Peak Family Business survey.
Keim Lumber has been working with the Family Business Center through another generational transition for the last two and half years.
“It’s been a huge impact on our family, on our business, and really I’m not sure where we would be if we hadn’t engaged with them,” Keim said.
One of the keys of good decision-making is open communication, Landes said. After 30 years of helping family businesses communicate among themselves and with each other, he said he was proud of the success those businesses have found: “I have a great sense of accomplishment for having created a community of learning for business families.”