How to find the right family business advice

By Barbara Spector

Because they must meet the dual objective of keeping their business competitive while maintaining family harmony, family companies face a unique set of challenges. If your family has been unable to resolve issues on its own and has gotten stuck, it may well be time to seek outside help.

When you interview prospective advisers or consultants, consider these points to ensure the professional you engage has what it takes to help you resolve your issues.

1. Experience and qualifications. How many family business clients at your generational stage and level of revenues has this professional helped? Has he or she been trained in the specific issues that family companies confront, and the systems and structures that can help resolve these issues? Do the person’s answers reflect a genuine understanding of your situation, or does he or she view family businesses as a “market”? In your initial meeting, does the consultant ask questions aimed at getting to the heart of your situation, or is he or she focusing on a narrow specialty? Does the consultant keep up with current literature in the field?

2. Conflict of interest and neutrality. The consultant’s self-interest should be spelled out up front. Is consulting the person’s only source of income? Will he or she try to sell you a product — and, if so, is it a product that can actually help you? Who will be considered the client: the business, the family or a subset of the family? (It’s important to clarify this at the outset.) What is the fee structure? If the consultant refers you to an attorney, wealth management adviser or other professional, will he or she receive a referral fee?

3. Values and chemistry. Does the consultant understand your family values? Can he or she relate well to all members of your family, regardless of age, gender and other factors (marital status, etc.)? Will he or she be able to create an atmosphere where all family members feel comfortable speaking openly about difficult issues? Will the consultant be able to mediate disputes?

4. Goals. Will the consultant be able to help your family set up structures and processes that will help you work together as a family to make decisions harmoniously and resolve your own conflicts? Is he or she giving you a realistic idea of the work you will need to do as a family, or are you being promised an easy fix?

Search Family Business Magazine’s online Directory of Advisers to find professional firms, family business centers and other organizations serving family companies.