A word about the family side of your business

By Amy C. Cosper

Family business cannot be contained or defined by a formula.

recently asked a selection of 15 family business influencers and academics for their definition of a family business. With each response came a different set of parameters. Some definitions were straightforward, one-sentence explainers. Others were complex mathematical equations about shareholders, stakeholders and boards of directors. There are no wrong answers, of course. The topic of family business is vast, and defining it can send you into a bottomless rabbit hole, which is where I spent the better part of three days.

A defining characteristic of family business is family. That is the singular differentiator from other businesses. Family business cannot be contained or defined by formula. How families begin businesses is why we tell the stories we tell. Over the course of generations, family businesses sprawl and become less about family and more about shareholders, paperwork and governance. It becomes complex.

But sometimes, it’s the simple story of a family that inspires the most. The cover story for our November/December issue takes a look at Never Summer Industries. It is a powerful reminder of how central the role of family is in family business. Brothers Tim and Tracey Canaday founded Never Summer Industries 30 years ago in Denver. They have seen their business expand as the sport of snowboarding has gained a global foothold. They have built an international following and a reputation for excellence and craftsmanship. Sustainability and environmental issues are core to their mission. They are fearless in taking on competitors like Burton because they have a clarity of vision that is unwavering. And, they have each other.

But the Canadays are not a multigenerational business, nor are they a startup. They are a family business, plain and simple.

As we readied the issue to go to press, Tim’s 22-year-old son, Zachary, passed away from the brain cancer he had been fighting for 12.5 years. Tim continued to do interviews. He took my phone calls. He sat for a photo shoot as he made funeral plans for his son. “My son is a part of all of this. He is a part of our story — all of our stories. We are able to get through this moment because we are a family, and without that I wouldn’t be able to,” Tim explained.

It was a tough interview, maybe the toughest of my career. But Tim told the story of Zach’s life with so much grace, I had a hard time keeping it together. “Look, my son’s life and his death brought us all closer,” he said. “Our business partners, our team, all share in grief and sadness, but also in the joy of knowing Zach and having him in our lives. I am lucky because this business has given me the opportunity and the means to seek treatment for Zach for 12-and-a-half years. Because this is a family business, I was able to go to Atlanta for three years with Zach for treatment and the business kept going. It is a great gift.”

Tim and Tracey Canaday are close brothers. And throughout the process, Tim was concerned we were putting too much attention on him and not enough attention on his brother. “This family is a team, so make sure Tracey is a part of this story, too.” I assured him that Tracey figures prominently.

This story is not a guide to governance and policy. It is a story of family, life and passion. It is at its core the essence of what family business is.

On those days when the administration of your family business is more business than family, take a step back and remember that family is why you are in business. And give a head nod to Zach, and remember what you do is as much about family as it is about business.

Read our cover story here: https://www.familybusinessmagazine.com/endless-winter-never-summer

Issue: 
November/December 2021

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