Community ties

By Barbara Spector

Family businesses are often referred to as “the backbone of a community”—and for good reason. According to 2003 research by Joseph Astrachan of Kennesaw State University and Melissa Shanker of Loyola University Chicago, family businesses contribute between 29% and 64% of the U.S. gross domestic product (depending on how broadly “family business” is defined) and employ between 27% and 62% of the U.S. workforce (J.H. Astrachan, M.C. Shanker, Family Business Review, vol. XVI, no. 3, September 2003).


But such data paint only part of the picture. In communities from Albany to Yuma, citizens rave about the service at family-owned stores and restaurants, and businesses cherish their connections with family-owned manufacturers and contractors. Family business owners are reliable contributors to charities. The names of prominent business families are etched on hospital wings, university buildings, theaters and other regional landmarks.


In this issue, we celebrate family businesses’ connection to the community, and family business leaders’ special status within their hometowns. In a two-part feature on business owners and the media, longtime family business journalist Sharon Nelton shares her insights on talking to the press (page 63), and Phil Yacuboski offers advice on addressing the media when your business faces a crisis (page 66).


We also examine the challenges confronting family business leaders who choose to be politically active. On page 47, Patricia Olsen explores how two business owners balance their devotion to partisan causes with their business mission to serve a diverse market, and how they find time for activism while running a company. On page 50, Bennett Voyles profiles Michael and Steven Roberts, who control a multifaceted $820 million enterprise in St. Louis. Both Robertses have served on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, and both have run for mayor. In their case, business opportunities arose from their political work—not the other way around.


Other features focus on innovative ways of promoting a business to people in your region. Ray Lope and John Sullivan of Wm. Sullivan & Son Funeral Directors in Michigan describe how they got the community involved in their business’s 100th anniversary celebration (page 54), and Scottie Mayfield of Mayfield Dairy Farms in Tennessee explains how he’s created a community of loyal customers through his blog (page 57). And in this issue’s Survey column, Jayne Pearl talks to six business owners about the charitable causes they support (page 69).


When your family name represents a business that people trust and respect, you have a big responsibility. You also have a tremendous marketing advantage. The business literature offers many excellent examples of how to make the most of it—and the tabloids show what can happen when a relative doesn’t get the message.

Article categories: 
Summer 2007

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