In this issue
We often hear it: In any business someone has to be in charge. Particularly in a family enterprise with many active members — parents, brothers and sisters, cousins — it has to be clear who has the final say. Who makes sure that the necessary decisions are made? Who provides the leadership that will prevent the business from self-destructing because of deep-seated family rivalries?
When you own a business, you'll do anything to keep the customers satisfied, and you try to convey the family business values to every employee. You have a simple and trustworthy feedback system: your eyes and ears, which can keep focused in a small operation.
But your eyes and ears cannot see and hear everything in a growing business. There are too many decisions to be made and too many employees who do not intuitively understand the family's values. The family needs to create a system to insure not just that its values are espoused, but to see that they are practiced.
At one point in Dan Gerber's new novel, A Voice from the River, Nick Wheeler recalls getting up his courage to tell his father, Russell, he is leaving the family company. Nick sees his job in the cardboard container division of Wheeler Industries as that of a "glorified errand boy." He wants to quit and open an art gallery. But he is unable to refuse his father's simple plea that "it would mean an awful lot to me if you would stay on." By the time he reaches home, Nick is "burning with self-disgust."
Alan Senie and Nolan Kerschner knew they had their work cut out for them as they sat around a conference table at the London headquarters of the Morgan Grenfell bank last January. Their goal: to secure $24 million to begin an ambitious and risky project. Alan, a lawyer, and Nolan, a builder, were proposing to create the first Western-style suburban housing in the Soviet Union, something much larger companies had contemplated but never attempted.