Getting to know you
When a family business is in its fourth generation and beyond, family members face a very basic challenge: getting to know each other. In a family ownership group that includes multiple, geographically dispersed branches, there's a distinct possibility that several of the cousins have never met.
There are several good reasons to rectify that situation. First of all, it's cool to meet people who share your blood and your family history. And second, extended family members who have forged a personal connection are less likely to develop irreconcilable differences.
The Eddy family -- owners of Port Blakely Companies, a forestry and land development enterprise based in the Pacific Northwest -- has done a lot of thinking about bringing family members together to share fun and educational experiences. Charlotte Lamp, Ph.D., a member of the Eddy family who was instrumental in developing its family curriculum, offers her advice in the July/August 2012 issue of Family Business Magazine.
Lamp's article details the topics that are taught in Port Blakely's family education program, which includes knowledge strands related to the company's business operations as well as the family itself. The family presents its educational programming during its annual meetings, which are held over a weekend during the summer. Lamp notes:
"Gathering family members and sharing eyeball-to-eyeball on a regular basis is important, but including some fun and entertaining activities can deepen the relationships. Family members have special talents, and those need to shine forth!"
Every few years, the Eddy family council chooses three family members to be profiled in brief videos that are shown before the family dinner at the annual meeting, Lamp writes. She tells of one family dinner that featured placemats illustrated with the Eddy family tree. The following year, the family tree was enlarged to 120 feet, with squares for each family member to stand on. "It was great for all members to look around and visualize where they fit on the tree," Lamp writes.
Family events like this move the conversation away from small talk and toward a deeper connection. If your extended family members have a history of shared experiences, odds are that they will work hard to find common ground in a debate over dividends.