Are you still relevant?

By Dann Van Der Vliet

A hashtag on social media reveals compelling family business pain points

Daniel G. Van Der Vliet, executive director of the Smith Family Business Initiative at Cornell University, has done something both fun and insightful — maybe even a tad quirky. He has compiled a list of conversations and quotes related to family business under the hashtag #fambizquotes on social media. The statements are illuminating.


Each of these quotes represents a conversation, a reflection, a nugget of wisdom gleaned from the lessons learned or the experience gained in an individual’s family business. The prompts? What have you learned; what have you said; what stories were passed down, deliberately or parenthetically, to your family and next generation?  (Follow #fambizquotes on Twitter and share your own.)


Here, Van Der Vliet addresses some of the posts from the community. Some are fun, some are serious and some are... well, have a read and decide for yourself.


“Dad, your company’s Instagram post is pathetic!” 

This was the declaration of a high school junior as she shared breakfast with her dad and he finally asked her a serious question about the family business. Sometimes, it’s best to let the kids do what they do best, and get out of the way. 


“Some of our employees have worked here longer than I have been alive.” 

Family businesses demonstrate longevity time and again, and it not uncommon to have multigenerational employees within a multigenerational family business. Be sure to appreciate all of the families that make a business a family business. 


“The best day of my business life was when I hired my wife. The second-best day of my business life was when I fired my wife.”

Family business is complicated. This has become such a fact of life that Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has adopted it as their branding slogan. Take a business; mix in heavy emotion; shake, stir and agitate. Yup, “It’s complicated” might be the understatement of the century. 


“There is nothing harder than working in a family business,” said the child. 

“…except working for a complete stranger,” said the parent. 

Family businesses do present incredible opportunities that might not always be realized when they are directly in front of you. A family business opens pathways to leadership, ownership and independence. 


“Just make him president. We know why he is here.” 

While family succession might at times seem inevitable, it is still important to select the best candidate for the job. Are you preparing the next generation of leadership and ensuring that the future of the business is in the best hands? The family should support the business, and not the other way around. 


“Family businesses can always be better. They never become simpler.” 

Do the math. With each successive generation the numbers increase, adding complexity. The best family businesses address the difficult choices ahead of time with honesty, communication and governance. 


“You never get to be a very old company unless you figure out how to be a very new company.” 

One good idea will not last your family three generations anymore. Each generation must innovate, adapt and change. Marriott spent 30 years as a restaurant business before they added hotels. Kroger operated small-scale grocery stores before they entered the super store arena. Even Amazon began as a used book clearing house before they saw the potential of e-commerce. 


“We survived.” 

Families deliver value to the businesses that others simply cannot. When your name is on the sign out front, you work harder, go farther, contribute more and do not always seek compensation. It’s why family businesses outperform and outlast their publicly owned or entrepreneurial counterparts. In the words of Jim Collins, family businesses are built to last, not built to flip. 

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