Our top five stories of 2018

Readers of Family Business showed a wide-ranging interest in educational and news topics this year. Of our best-read stories online in 2018, no subject was represented twice, demonstrating the many needs of families as they negotiate the challenges of running a business, engaging family members and managing wealth. We thank you for turning to us to help you and for sharing your stories not only with us, but also with your peers.

We’re grateful for readers’ expressions of sympathy following the news of the passing of our founder, Milton L. Rock, in January. He was larger than life, and we proudly carry on his legacy.

Cheers to a happy and successful 2019.

1. How family offices serve families' needs

Five years after her entrepreneur husband died in 2000, Michele Rollins decided her children needed to be brought in on the family’s financial arrangements.

The late John W. Rollins Sr. had built an empire of companies involved in trucking, environmental services and pest control. He also owned racetracks and hospitality complexes.

“The kids needed to know more,” explains Rollins, the chairman of Rollins Jamaica Ltd., the holding company for the island nation’s Rose Hall Developments Ltd.

To accomplish that, Rollins, who holds a law degree and a master’s degree in taxation, created a small family office. When Rollins was chosen by the Delaware GOP to run for the state’s congressional seat in 2010, her family fortune was reported to be as much as $350 million.

For help, Rollins reached out to a separate family office created by the family of her late husband’s brother — the billionaire branch of the Rollins clan in Atlanta that is behind the pest control empire anchored by Orkin. (Michele Rollins’ branch is not part of that family office.)

2. Family Business Magazine mourns the loss of its founder

Milton L. Rock — loving and beloved patriarch, perceptive businessman, community-minded philanthropist and forward-thinking magazine founder — died at home of natural causes on Jan. 27, 2018. He was 96 years old.

Dr. Rock was formerly the managing partner of Hay Associates, a compensation and human resources consulting firm that was sold to Saatchi & Saatchi in 1985. (Today, it is part of Korn Ferry Hay Group.) After the sale of Hay, Dr. Rock formed MLR Holdings LLC along with his son, Robert H. Rock, and the late Charles E. Fiero, both of whom had worked with him at Hay.

MLR owns and operates media and information businesses. Among its first holdings were Directors & Boards and Mergers & Acquisitions, both of which Hay had acquired from their founder, Stanley Foster Reed. In 1989, recognizing the need for an educational and informational resource for family companies, Dr. Rock founded Family Business Magazine.

Until his death, Dr. Rock served as chairman emeritus of MLR Holdings; his son, Bob, succeeded him as chairman in 2016. Dr. Rock’s daughter-in-law, Caro U. Rock, would later join him and Bob at MLR as publisher of Family Business. She had previously been publisher of Main Line Life, a publication of Montgomery Newspapers, formerly owned by the Rock family. Today Dr. Rock’s grandson, William U. Rock, is president of MLR, which also owns The 451 Group, the parent company of Uptime Institute and 451 Research.

3. Nordstrom family keeps its focus on the long term

In an increasingly digital and global business environment, when traditional models are being questioned, is the concept of the family business still relevant?

Indeed, some may ask whether “learning the ropes” at a parent’s knee produces business leaders equipped to deal with the challenges of running a company in an age of mobile and social commerce and data-driven strategies.

While there are elements of truth behind these concerns, the reality is that family ownership more often provides stability, long-term vision and creativity.

The Wall Street Journal recently provided a model for family businesses in an article profiling the efforts of the Nordstrom family to keep their department store vital in an age when many peers are falling behind (“Can the Nordstrom Family Outrun Retail Woes?,” Feb. 15, 2018).

4. Family Leaders to Watch

We celebrate those who work to bring family members together in support of the business.

All businesses need solid CEO talent, but multigenerational family businesses need another type of leadership as well. Someone (or several someones) must step up to unite the family and inspire them to work together in support of the family enterprise.

Once a business family reaches the third generation, odds are the family stakeholder group has expanded exponentially, which means factions are likely to form. There are bloodline descendants and married-ins, those who work in the business and those who don’t, and those who live in and away from the company’s hometown. Family members’ political and religious beliefs can differ. And, of course, there are generational differences, which can be further complicated if there is a wide age range within a single generation.

Disinterest in the enterprise or disharmony within the family over an extended period will impede family members’ ability to continue in business together. Ways to keep the family from splintering include establishing communication channels; developing policies to establish ground rules; educating stakeholders about the business; and creating opportunities for the extended family to get to know each other, have fun together or jointly contribute to a worthy cause.

Family CEOs can lead these types of efforts — and some excel in this area — but often the business leader is too busy running the company to devote much time to family governance. This provides a chance for other family members to demonstrate their leadership capabilities.

In a large and diverse family, there are numerous jobs to do, which opens the door for multiple leaders to emerge. The family leaders profiled on the following pages exemplify how many ways there are to make a difference. With so many roles to fill, people with a wide variety of talents and interests can all contribute to the success of the family enterprise.

These efforts are often undertaken behind the scenes. In this special feature, we celebrate the people who work to perpetuate the continuation of their family’s shared enterprise.

5. Family council documents provide purpose and structure

A member of the Ritter family, owners of E. Ritter & Co., explains how the council uses documents as a tool to ensure that meetings are productive.

Developing a family council checks a lot of boxes for a growing multigenerational family business. A family council provides a mechanism to engage and educate family members in a setting that includes positive social bonding time. Councils are a mechanism to define and address the “business of the family,” reduce conflict and promote positive social experiences associated with the business. They also encourage family interaction across branches and generations.

However, once a council is in place, deciding how to best plan a council meeting can be a complex problem. Council leaders must ensure meetings are regarded as a good use of time and productive in order to retain buy-in from family members with busy lives. Our family business, E. Ritter & Company, was founded in Marked Tree, Ark., in 1886 and now spans six generations. E. Ritter & Company is the parent to Ritter Agribusiness, a farm management provider, and Ritter Communications, which provides telecommunications products and services in Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. 

The Ritter Family Council (RFC) represents three generations of family members.