Conflict: Honor your family's roots

By Caroline Bailey

Manage conflict through engagement

As a family grows in size, there is more diversity of generations, personalities, opinions, and values which can naturally create conflict. While every family is different, being proactive and providing opportunities for engagement, whether they work in the business or not, can be a gamechanger for managing conflict. Our family business was founded on the diversity of two brothers, Ernest and Julio Gallo. They had disagreements and many times they did not see things the same. Despite it all, they had deep respect for one another, listened to each other’s ideas and more often than not would walk away with a third option better than each of their own. Their partnership was summed up by their commitment to each other—“I’ll sell as much wine as you can make,” and “I’ll make as much wine as you can sell.” This healthy display of competition and their differences complemented each other making them and the business stronger. By proactively managing their differences, the E. & J. Gallo Winery was born in 1933 and today is the largest winery in the world, the rest is history.

So how can you manage conflict challenges proactively?

First and foremost, it is important to get back to basics, honor your family roots, and the vision and values of the founders. As a third-generation family member, the question that kept me up at night is how do we keep future generations connected to founders they have never met? I was fortunate to have learned and worked with Ernest and my Grandfather Julio and now have the opportunity to share my experiences and anecdotal stories with the next generation. To keep our family connected to our roots, we re-created family traditions in a new and different way in locations conducive for promoting engagement and interaction. Creating a safe environment outside the boardroom for communication was key for transparency and collaboration.

Second, use an anonymous assessment to gather data to understand differing perceptions in a family allowing every voice to be heard. Knowing data was important for our family, it proved to be a gamechanger and the start of our family governance. I discovered an industry assessment to help families in areas of family and business governance now called FEAT—Family Enterprise Assessment Tool. It was a clarifying force for our family. I realized it was not what family members were saying, it was what they were not saying. Opinions matter and by having neutral data provided for productive conversations to help manage any potential conflicts that could arise.

And finally, put systems and processes in place before they are needed. For our family, it was about initiating family governance to mirror our business governance. This included forming a Family Council. In the beginning it was not clear why it was needed or how it would function. It wasn’t until we put these systems and processes into practice that family members recognized the value and importance. The bottom line is that our Family Council was formed long before we needed it to address any issues and inefficiencies that could arise and potentially cause conflict.

Conflict and challenges are natural in a family and make them stronger and more resilient to stand the test of time. By getting back to family roots, gathering useful data to address differing perceptions, along with creating systems and processes before they are needed, can assist in successfully navigating a proactive pathway to effectively manage conflict. It is also important to recognize that differences in a family are a good thing, and help families grow and thrive for generations to come.


Caroline Coleman Bailey is a third-generation member of the Gallo family. Following an eighteen-year career in her family business, she pursued her own entrepreneurial spirit. Through this transition she identified her value within the family as a catalyst, launching the Gallo Family Council in 2006, as founding chair and continues as co-chair today.  She is author of the recent book, Rooted In Family: Honoring The Past While Creating Our Future.

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