Keeping up with Family Traditions

Keeping up with Family Traditions

Family businesses are larger than individual family members, argues Christophe Viellard, president of Hénokiens, a prestigious international association comprising a diverse range of well-known and established family businesses (of at least two hundred years old), including the likes of French car manufacturer Peugeot (founded 1882), British private bank C. Hoare & Co. (1672) and Italian glassmakers Barovier & Toso (1295).

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Family businesses which stand the test of time – like those accepted as members to Hénokiens – are those which are able to preserve their heritage, company culture, vision and mission from one generation to the next. Heirs of these family businesses realise that, far from being a resource which they can plunder for their own personal gain, the company is theirs to protect and preserve for those to whom they’ll one day pass on the torch, as it was passed on to them.

The Family is the company’s custodian

Successors are, explains Viellard, responsible for the continued sustainability of the industrial or financial ventures for which they are acting as guardians. As custodians, those who succeed to the helm of a family business should be mindful of the following:

  • Whilst ambition is a necessary managerial skill, directors of family businesses must seek to ensure that this ambition is used, not solely for pursuing their own personal agendas, but to serve – their family, the business, its staff, or even an entire community in which a business is based.
  • In planning for the future, family business managers should recognise that it’s the business itself that, by continuing to trade and grow, which will endure through time, not the individuals involved in it.
  • Particularly where a family is very large, family businesses should have in place a formal system for selecting the most competent candidates when a post within the business becomes vacant or is created. All shareholders should be familiar with, and make use of, this system.

Preserving family traditions

Hénokiens companies can show how preserving family traditions is essential in ensuring the longevity of an organisation or brand. It is through the family, says Viellard, that the virtues required for successfully stewarding a family business are transmitted – generous spirit of ambition, humility, concern and compassion for others, respect for the work ethic and for the efforts of one’s forebears and, last but by no means least, loyalty.

It goes without saying, therefore, that the current incumbents in positions of power within a family business need to model the behaviours and traits they hope to see the next generation exhibiting when they inherit the roles and responsibilities of the business. In essence, the old ‘monkey see, monkey do’ philosophy applies – heirs need to be groomed from the earliest age, by example of their parents, says Viellard, when they are naturally inclined to respect family traditions and virtues.

Having loyalty to the family does not – and should not – amount to a ‘family above all else’ mindset, argues Viellard. The trick is to recognise when outsiders can and should be included in the family business, because they bring a particular skill set or expertise which the family does not have, for example. Many Hénokiens companies demonstrate how respecting family traditions, whilst recognising when and how to include others within that system, can help ensure a business remains both relevant and sustainable.

They do this through a variety of models, says Viellard – there are those which employ mostly family members and those who limit family involvement to just two or three key stakeholders. Whichever approach is employed, stresses Viellard, the important thing is standing by family tradition whilst ensuring that the company is managed according to sound business principles with the right (high quality and appropriately skilled) personnel, whether family or other, in place.

Conserver la tradition familiale et favoriser la qualité du management” was originally published on Les Echos on 11 December 2013.

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