In this issue
Picture yourself as a child on the Fourth of July, holding an unlit sparkler with great anticipation. Once lit, the sparks flew everywhere and all too quickly died out. That is, they died out until you figured out that you could keep the sparks flying by lighting another stick before the first one died, and then another and another. Creating sustainable sparklers became a game of collaboration with siblings, cousins and friends.
To survive and thrive, family companies need new ideas and a fresh point of view. An advisory board can jump-start innovative thinking by infusing new perspectives into the family business. A council of diverse outside experts can show families how to overcome inherent vulnerabilities and to navigate the pitfalls that often plague family companies, such as sibling infighting and hidden agendas. To help mitigate the risk around the governance of family businesses, advisory boards offer a number of benefits.
At this year's Laird Norton Family Summit, held in June, close to 300 members of the family that owns Laird Norton Company LLC gathered in San Diego—far from the diversified holding company's Seattle headquarters. They heard how the company is doing. They also learned from family president Allison Parks about family members' service to the company and philanthropic contributions in the past year.
John G. Sommers Jr. was 26 years old when his father died in 2013 from an aggressive cancer that claimed him in less than six months. At an age when most young people are just beginning their careers, John Jr. found himself at the helm of Allied Printing Services in Manchester, Conn., the largest family-owned commercial printing company in New England.
"When he knew what was inevitable—that he was terminal—my father reminded me first to trust my heart and myself, to have the confidence to move forward," John Jr. says. "And I needed to hear that from him."
Selling a family business is an intense process that draws on the skills and experiences of everyone involved—the CEO, owners, management team and outside advisers. Combining family issues with business considerations further complicates the sale process. Understanding what the family business provides to each key family member and addressing these needs ahead of time is essential to getting the required buy-in from the family and, ultimately, the successful execution of a sale.
Julie Andrews, playing the title role in the film Mary Poppins, sang: "In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and, snap, the job's a game." As parents have known for generations, projects that seem like fun get accomplished more quickly, and more people want to participate.
In 1898, Frank Doetsch Sr. cleaned sewers with a bucket and shovel. Today Doetsch Environmental Services, based in Warren, Mich., continues to provide industrial cleaning services, but with high-pressure water and vacuum equipment and underground cameras.
Diann Regelbrugge, 68, is the fourth-generation owner; sons Sean, 37, and Joe Schotthoefer, 42, are vice presidents of finance and operations, respectively.
Generation of family ownership: Third.
Size of company: Between $3 million and $4 million (2014 estimated revenue).
Number of employees: 22.
Years with the company: Lifelong. The company was in my DNA from Day 1. I used to say I was born on the shop room floor, but my mother didn't like that.