Communicating

One challenge for family members who work together is recognizing the difference between family and business roles, and knowing which “hat” to wear when. When everyone gathers around the dinner table or at a family reunion, there should be a balance between “shop talk” and catching up on family news.

Longo Brothers Fruit Markets Inc., based in Vaughan, Ontario, was founded by brothers Tommy, Joe and Gus Longo in 1956 with a single location and today is a chain of 32 grocery stores.

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No matter how well your relatives bond at family meetings, these gatherings have limitations. If your family is large and dispersed, it's impractical to meet more than once a year and, inevitably, some family members won't make it to the meeting.

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When he was in fifth grade, Will Lyles wrote a paper outlining his future career path in his family's business. Although he didn't end up taking time off to get an MBA, as he had predicted at age 10, his career has largely followed his childhood vision.

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At Laboratory Testing Inc., an independent testing company in Hatfield, Pa., steel, iron and other materials get pushed, pulled, dropped, squeezed, stretched, smashed, dissolved and shattered.

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Effective communication is one of the keys to happy, healthy and thriving families, so it behooves family members to try to become better communicators. This is especially important for families who work together around shared ownership of family assets. That said, communicating effectively can be challenging even when the message appears simple. Add the unique dynamics of family members running a family business, and communication becomes exponentially more difficult. Yet communication is the key to the success of every interaction, whether personal or professional.

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In the life cycle of a family enterprise, contentious issues will arise. These include naming one sibling over others as the future business leader, appointing outsiders to the board, planning to lower family dividends so as to invest in a new business opportunity, and instituting a policy on family employment or prenuptial agreements.

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The platform for modern communication has radically changed over the past decade. Countless articles and opinions have been offered on how to best reach your audience, in particular a younger audience. A whole new set of communication verbs and nouns have emerged in our vocabulary: “blogging,” “social networking,” “Web 2.0” and, most recently, “tweeting.” This new vocabulary is a testament to the changing landscape of information delivery.

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Technology helps to connect members of a large family

With dozens of cousins scattered across the globe, how can a later-generation business family keep its diverse group of shareholders informed about the business and strengthen ties among relatives who rarely see each other?

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This is undeniably a time of great stress and uncertainty. Financial advisers are making every effort to keep their clients updated about the markets during this volatile time. Financial advisers speak to what they know best—the behavior of financial markets. We are not financial advisers, but we’ve heard from our clients and their advisers about some of the challenges they are facing, and we thought some of our observations about human behaviors in uncertain times might be helpful.

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Come January, for the first time in my life, the President of the United States will be younger than I am. In reflecting on this bit of depressing, personal trivia, I noted that Barack Obama—though born in 1961 and thus too old to be a member of Generation Y—had strong appeal among young voters. Perhaps not coincidentally, he raised millions of dollars through the Internet, an avenue less important to the mature McCain camp.

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