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."
If you've ever had a smoothie—or a margarita—you've probably seen a Vitamix in action. Among other capabilities, a Vitamix can turn raw ingredients into hot soup without a stove, and spares users the task of removing skin or leaves (which are rich in nutrients) from the produce. It's a blender, food processor, dough mixer and juicer all in one, says Jodi Berg, the fourth-generation president and CEO of Vitamix Corporation.
When a family business stakeholder group is small enough to fit everyone around the dinner table, the family values and business mission are communicated naturally, and important company developments are brought up in everyday conversation. But once the family moves into the third generation, it becomes harder to get everyone in the same place and on the same page.
In 1987, Paul Gordon, third-generation leader of Gordon Food Service, paid a visit to the University of Michigan's business school, seeking guidance on a bold initiative. He and his brother, John—respectively president and secretary/treasurer of the Grand Rapids, Mich., company—wanted to create a governance structure that would help their company to thrive in perpetuity.