Family Business is Good Business – The Italian Way

I am sitting here on one of these crazy flying machines again. Hurling towards the Midwest at top speed. How fast do these A320’s go anyways? “It’s just a commute to work” I convince myself. Just a commute? Seriously? My third road trip in three weeks. “just drink water”, I tell myself.

Well, the Northwest of Canada is not the most convenient place to commute from. I’m positive now that our NHL team, the Vancouver Canucks, have never won a Stanley Cup because of the travel toll. Yes, we pay a price to live in the beautiful Northwest. It’s far from most everything and we get hammered on the time change.

No matter. It gives me a few extra hours to really focus on my task the next few days. I’m working with the “inner circle” of a tightly held family business.

Franchisors and operators of 170 restaurants. Full service Italian concept. Includes pizza delivery.

This brand has been catering since 1964! That’s before I was born. Seems a bit silly that I should be teaching some long-term catering experts how to cater. So, this got me thinking.

If the family has been catering since 1964, what can I do on this trip to improve their “catering perspective”?

This is a 5th generation family venture. It has all of the classic textbook elements that are common in generational family businesses. They operate totally differently than “regular” corporations. I’m going to use that to my advantage. This is a great family with great core family values.

Personally, I admire that. It feeds me.

Estate planning, succession planning, family dynamics, intertwined finances, sibling rivalry and deep rooted history will be present in the boardroom. I’m going to have to dig deeper on this one. I just know it. I’m bringing my ‘inside voice’ because my personal passion can get as certain and as loud as anybody’s.

Well, to my good fortune, (or perhaps misfortune), not only did I write a thesis paper on “Passing the torch” in a family business, I myself left a family business in 1996 after 10 years. It’s worked out for me in my business life, but it was not easy at the time. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will share that the learning was BIG. It applies here. I plan on using it.

As I write this post, I am reminded to focus on the issue at hand. I am reminded that my goal on this trip is to align a group of capable and passionate young (and not so young) people that are working together mostly because they share the same blood. Not necessarily because they are the right person for the job.

But that’s ok. It can work in their favour, the family business thing. It’s unique. It’s special. Lots of good stuff to go with the challenges.

It’s challenging enough to layer new services inside any organization never mind one that runs so deep with love and complex family dynamics.

On top of that, the family is Italian! Food is everywhere, egos large and divisions run deep. That’s what family businesses are. Difficult to keep alive. After all, more than 85% of family businesses fail in the second generation. Of those left standing, 90% fail in the third generation. Remember, I wrote a paper on the topic. I also left a family business. So, I know what it is. And it’s complicated. No question about that. Nothing easy about it.

Saying that, it can also be AMAZING!
So, I am asking myself, “how is this family business still standing in its fifth generation?”.

Something special is happening here. Alot of pride and love There is alot to celebrate. This kind of survival is not usual.

Most [family businesses] are gone by this time. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s going to be tenuous in the room. Some family members going to the right and some to the left. It’s natural. It’s the way it is in these situations. So what?

So here’s my plan;
1. Focus on the best interest of the brand.
2.Facilitate agreement that my business academics make sense. Its just a business.
3.Gain trust from each family member and their managers. I am there to serve each of them equally.
4. Point out that my disconnect from their history is a strength..
5. Ask them to check their egos at the door. There will be no arguing on my watch.
6. Ask them to leave their personal judgement at the door.
7. Focus,focus,focus.

Of course there are many other things that I will ask of them. But without their trust and buy-in, I’m dead meat! So, I’ll just continue writing this blog post so that I can post it online and make sure they all get this memo before I get onsite.

Successful Family Business require a solid succession plan.

Memo to All Family Members and Managers

I am traveling far and wide to spend this time to help you increase your off-premise catering sales system wide.

I know there is alot of water under the bridge and that blood is thicker than water. I left my family in Vancouver to be with yours and for that I am grateful. So let’s be productive together. Let’s get to work. Let’s have some fun.

I urge you to attend our sessions with your best foot forward. Tuck your “stories” in your closets. Leave your personal “hurts” at the door. We won’t have room for that over the next few days. Forget about the “he said vs. she said” blame game. It’s not going to matter. It’s not going to work on my watch!

No. Please come with an open heart and an open mind. I just want to focus on the future. If your time has seriously come where you just want to make it better, than show up!

My job will be to create safety in the group and if I feel anyone is not adding value by simply digging heels in on old and stale issues I’m going to ask you to leave the room. Be warned.

I am not traveling all this way just to get stuck. I intend to move mountains over the next few days. Anything less would be a waste of money and time. Yours and mine.

What I can tell you, is that if you let me do my job and you give my catering business strategy a chance, our focus together will be on how we build a $48 Million per year business for your brand. For your family. After all, I appreciate how many of your family members rely on this business in this 5th generation. It’s got to be hundreds of people spanning all ages and genders.

So, I urge you today. Think of the future. Think of making it better. Don’t show up giving me all the reasons of ‘why it won’t work’. We all know there are thousands of reasons why it won’t work.

Guess what? If you tell yourself it won’t work, it won’t. The last time I looked, building a multi million dollar catering business takes effort. Gumption. Vision. Passion. Hard work.

Families all have dysfunction, including my own. It’s why most family businesses fail. But somehow, our paths cross today and my job is to be accountable to each of you so that you each serve the business and yourselves well. The business is separate from you. Separate from years of complex personal inter relations.

Well, I’ve got 45 minutes left in today’s commute and when I get there, I want you to know that I’m taking numbers. I’m not here to play games, I’m here to get the job done.

We can do it the ‘hard way’ or the ‘easy way’. I can be as old fashioned as anybody, but I promise you that I am going to put my best foot forward and fight hard for what I know is sound business logic and a certain and proven methodology.

At MonkeyMedia Software, we’ve done this before. Our customers who heed our advice are not only winning, but they are winning BIG! Just ask them yourselves.

I’ll see you all in a few hours. I hope you will let me be part of ‘the family’. I promise to serve each of you well. But you will have to give me a chance. That decision is yours.
Please be kind to each other. (and to me!).

End of Memo

For those of you reading this blog post, stay tuned for my report after the next few days. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Preparing for another landing so I have to go. I’ll be in touch soon.

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